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The Increasing Dangers of Prescription Painkillers

June 01, 2016

Americans haven’t been reporting any change in the pain they feel, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the sales of prescription opioids nearly quadrupled from 1999 to 2014 in the U.S. By itself, this statistic is troubling, but the fact that prescription opioid overdose deaths have also quadrupled over that timeframe makes it downright scary.

Around half of opioid painkillers are prescribed by primary care providers, but they aren’t the only culprits behind the massive uptick in prescription rates over the past decade or so. According to the CDC, 36% of physical medicine/rehabilitation patients, 37% of surgery patients, and 49% of pain medicine patients are prescribed painkillers.

Despite these high prescription rates, healthcare providers are concerned about the risks of prescription painkiller addiction and overdose. While prescription painkillers can help manage some types of pain, there isn’t enough evidence that they improve overall function, quality of life, or chronic pain among patients.

Who Uses Painkillers?

According to the CDC, prescription painkiller use varies according to ethnicity, gender, and age:

  • Hispanics are less likely to use prescription painkillers than non-Hispanic whites.
  • Non-Hispanic whites and non-Hispanic blacks use prescription painkillers at a similar rate.
  • Women are more likely to use prescription painkillers than men.
  • Adults 40 years and older are more likely to use prescription painkillers than adults 20-39 years old.

Where Do People Get Painkillers?

People at the highest risk of overdosing — those who use prescription painkillers for non-medical purposes 200+ times per year — generally don’t get their drugs the same ways as people who obtain them for purely medicinal purposes or by those who use them less frequently.

  • 27% get them from their own prescriptions
  • 26% get them from friends and relatives for free
  • 23% buy them from friends or relatives
  • 15% buy them from a drug dealer
  • 9% steal them from friends or relatives, or through other means

Prescription Rates Vary by State

With no country-wide policy on prescribing painkillers, the rates vary from state-to-state, sometimes by a wide margin. According to the CDC, the highest-prescribing state wrote nearly three times as many prescriptions for painkillers as the lowest-prescribing state. There is minimal variation on the health issues that cause people pain, so officials believe that other factors are influencing the discrepancy:

  • There is no consensus on when to prescribe painkillers, or how much to prescribe in different parts of the country.
  • Many states report issues with high volume, for-profit pain clinics, also known as “pill mills.” They are known to prescribe large quantities of painkillers to people who have no medical need for them.
  • There is an increased demand from people who use prescription painkillers without a prescription, who use them for the high, who obtain them from multiple sources, or who sell them.

If you or a loved one is suffering from an addiction prescription painkillers, you don’t need to handle it on your own. Here at Turning Point, we provide the best care possible to assist you during your recovery. If you’ve decided to seek help, contact our New Jersey drug and alcohol rehab center at (973) 380-0905 to begin the admissions process.

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