A US study has found that prescription painkillers are responsible for more deaths than heroin and cocaine overdose combined. The study, from McGill University compared a number of different sources of drug information before coming to their conclusion.
They found that there were a number of reasons behind the increase in painkiller use. Nicholas King, of the Biomedical Ethics Unit in the Faculty of Medicine said, "We found evidence for at least 17 different determinants of increasing opioid-related mortality, mainly, dramatically increased prescription and sales of opioids; increased use of strong, long-acting opioids like Oxycontin and methadone; combined use of opioids and other (licit and illicit) drugs and alcohol; and social and demographic factors."
While these factors were responsible for most of the painkiller deaths, the study also identified some misconceptions about painkillers. The most important of these was that internet sales were responsible for very little of the painkiller abuse and errors by doctors and patients were also a very small factor in the increased death rate.
The gist of the problem seems to be that society tells patients that they should expect medication to fix all of their pain. These patients then go to doctors who are prescribing more painkillers for longer periods. This can lead to addiction by also means there is a ready supply of painkillers in many households. This cycle then repeats itself creating more addiction and a large supply of painkillers.
"Our work provides a reliable summary of the possible causes of the epidemic of opioid overdoses, which should be useful for clinicians and policy makers in North America in figuring out what further research needs to be done, and what strategies might or might not be useful in reducing future mortality," says King. "And as efforts are made to increase access to prescription opioids outside of North America, our findings might be useful in preventing other countries from following the same path as the U.S. and Canada."
The findings of this research could not only help stem the tide of prescription painkiller abuse, it could help change societies idea of how painkillers should be prescribed and used.
To learn more about painkiller addiction, check out Life Works Knowledge Centre.