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Painkiller overdoses in U.S. exceeding those from heroin, cocaine - combined

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
August 30th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Prescribed and popped by many like so much candy, popular painkillers such as Vicodin and OxyContin are killing more people than heroin and cocaine - combined. Furthermore, the deaths and addictions as the result of these painkillers are a far greater health burden than those brought on by recreational drugs, such as marijuana. These are the sobering statistics as printed in the British medical journal The Lancet.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, prescriptions for painkillers in the United States have nearly tripled in the past two decades.

The Lancet study reports that such high-income nations, such as the U.S., United Kingdom and Australia, had the highest rates of abuse, 20 times greater than in the least impacted countries.

Enough painkillers in the U.S. were prescribed in 2010 to medicate every American adult around-the-clock for one month.

"According to the CDC, this is the worst drug epidemic in U.S. history," Dr. Andrew Kolodny, president of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing said. "CDC has data demonstrating that around the same time doctors began aggressively prescribing these medications in the late 1990s, there have been parallel increases in rates of addiction."

The Food and Drug Administration Kolodny said, is "failing miserably" at curbing the epidemic.

"The way to turn this epidemic around is for doctors to prescribe painkillers more cautiously," he said. Kolodny says this will only happen when the FDA changes labeling requirements for painkillers, "making it easier for medical schools and the larger medical community to prescribe these meds more cautiously."

Calling the current FDA-approved labeling "very broad," Kolodny says that the drugs have no suggested maximum dose nor suggested duration of use.

Kolodny is part of a group of health officials who signed a citizens' petition in 2012 urging the FDA to change labeling requirements on how and when doctors should prescribe painkillers.

The group has asked the FDA to limit the drugs' approved use to those suffering from "severe" pain, as opposed to the current FDA-approved standard of "moderate to severe pain."

Kolodny also says that the notion that there are two different groups of people using painkillers, those who need it and those who abuse it, is a false dichotomy. "The bulk of these prescriptions are unnecessary and can lead to addiction," he said. "Painkillers in many cases are actually ineffective in treating long-term pain."

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