Statistically, high-strength painkillers are the most widely prescribed class of drugs in the U.S. This is a class of drugs that, just 15 short years ago, was mostly used for post-operative pain and pain associated with cancer. Today they’re widely used to treat just about every type of pain, with chilling consequences. Patients develop tolerance to the opioids, requiring increasingly higher dosages just to maintain the same level of pain control. Use of painkillers can turn into an addiction, with accompanying symptoms of withdrawal should a patient try and taper off.
One of the inherent dangers in opioids, as with any prescription drug, is that consumers believe that any “prescription” drug is inherently safe – whether it is or not. We saw this with Ambien® and Xanax®.
This is not news. The New York Times reports that hundreds of thousands of Americans are on potentially dangerous dosages of prescription painkillers, many without proper medical oversight. The Associated Press analyzed DEA records for an article and an accompanying map showing the increase, not just in sales, but in dosages on a state-by-state basis. It’s actually quite chilling – especially when you consider that 40% of American teenagers have tried illegal drugs and 16% are abusing drugs by the age of 18. In fact, more Americans are addicted to prescription drugs than to illegal drugs. Drug dealers could take lessons from pharmaceutical companies and physicians.
In 2007, Purdue Frederick Co. was fined $700 million dollars by the FDA Office of Criminal Investigations, who charged the company with conspiracy to promote, market and sell the drug OxyContin® using illegal schemes. That fine doesn’t seem to have deterred the unnecessary over-prescribing of opioids.
It’s time for healthcare professionals to do something. We are failing the American public when the first solution to pain is to prescribe a high-strength painkiller. I’m not saying that painkillers do not have their place, but there are alternative ways to address pain, especially knowing how opioids are wrecking lives.
Certified Legal Nurse Consultants can help attorney-clients with cases involving accidents, deaths and other dangers related to over-prescription of opioids. I predict we will be seeing these issues litigated in the courts for many years to come. Just one more reason attorneys need Certified Legal Nurse Consultants.
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P.S. Comment and share your experiences with over-prescription of opioids.