Drastic Increase in Opioid Abuse

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Two studies, by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, show a drastic change in medication prescribing patterns that affect the prevalence of opioid abuse in America. The reports recommend an increased effort to reduce opioid abuse, including improved training for those who prescribe medication, pain management treatment, and increased education.

The background information in the reports show that there has been a dramatic increase in opioid prescriptions and a decrease in NSAID prescriptions (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). Of opioids, hydrocodone (Vicodin) and oxycodone (OxyContin) account for 84.9 percent of prescriptions. Admissions to addiction treatment centers for opioid addiction have increased fivefold over the last 10 years.

Opioid medications such as hydrocodone and oxycodone are effective at reducing pain, but have a high likelihood for addiction, especially among young adults. It is estimated that one in four people between the ages of 18 and 25 will abuse prescription painkillers during their life.

Adolescents and young adults accounted for 11.7 percent of the 202 million opioid prescriptions in the U.S. in 2009. Many of these were prescribed by dentists.

Thomas McLellan, PhD, co-author of the studies and director of the Center for Substance Abuse Solutions in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, said that opioid overdose is the second leading cause of accidental death in the U.S.. He added that the studies provide helpful information about factors contributing to the high rates of opioid painkillers.

The researchers believe that providing training for pain management care providers (including physicians, nurses, dentist, and pharmacists) could be very beneficial in helping prevent opioid abuse and overdose. Other recommendations include screening those at risk for substance abuse and dependents (including adolescents and young adults) and increasing public awareness of the problem and ways to prevent abuse, such as keeping prescription medications locked away.

Source: Science Daily, Opioids Now Most Prescribed Class of Medications in America, April 5, 2011


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