The over-prescribing of prescription opiates has become a very hot topic over the past few years. A new study shows that patients who are prescribed opiates continue to use them over a long period of time, indicating potential abuse. The report could add fuel to the fire as lawmakers and industry groups continue to battle companies producing these drugs.
The study, "A Nation in Pain", was conducted using records of more than 6.8 million Americans who had filled prescriptions for opiates between 2009 and 2013. Opiates, such as Vicodin and OxyContin, came to national attention as potentially dangerous in the mid-2000's when cities across the US started experiencing unusually high incidences of opiate overdose and addiction-related crime.
Express Scripts’ study found that while fewer Americans are prescribed opioid painkillers, those that are have more prescriptions for longer periods of time. Both the number of prescriptions and the amount of medication distributed rose by 8.4%. While the number of long-term users remained relatively constant, the number of short-term users declined by 11.1%. Almost half of those who took the medication for 30 days remained on the drugs three years later. The greatest growth in prescription use came in the 20-44 age group.
“The elderly have the highest prevalence of opioid use, but younger adults (age 20-44) filled more opioid prescriptions and had the greatest increase in the number of days of medication prescribed, per prescription, of any age group over the five-year period.”
The report was not all negative. The study found that the number of Americans using prescription painkillers declined 9.2% in the past 5 years, a potentially good sign for drug makers and regulators looking to ward off criticism.
The study casts a dark cloud over the pharmaceutical industry. Many people blame the pharmaceutical companies for the over-prescribing of these medications since the late 90's. The state of Kentucky is actually fighting Purde Pharma in court over claims involving Medicaid fraud and false advertising for its opiate medication Oxycontin.
These powerful narcotic painkillers are huge money makers and are heavily desired by patients. Over a long period time, people who are prescribed these types of medications become dependent on them. If they do not have their medication, they begin to get sick from the withdrawals. As the study shows, once you someone is prescribed an opiate, it is very hard for the patient to stop taking it. Theoretically, they become opiate patients for life.
Patients need to be educated about opiates and their potential dangers before a doctor prescribes it to them. These drugs are powerful and can change a person's life forever. If more patients are educated on the potential dangers of opiates they might never have taken it in the first place. I believe education is the key to helping combat this epidemic.