Prescription Painkiller Abuse Still Rising

Posted on 6/20/2010 by meg

A new study has found that visits to United States Emergency rooms as a result of prescription painkiller abuse have increased by 111% in only 5 years. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ER visits associated with prescription painkiller abuse increased from 305,885 from 144,644 per year between 2004 and 2008.

Gil Kerlikowske, director of the Office of the National Drug Control Policy, states: "the abuse of prescription drugs is our nation's fastest-growing drug problem". In addition, Dr. Thomas Frieden, CDC director, says: “visits to emergency departments for non-medical use of prescription pain drugs such as oxycodone are now as common as visits for illicit drugs”.

This study identified three of the most widely abused prescription painkillers as Oxycodone, Hydrocodone and Methadone.

Of course, the study of these ER trends suggests there is also a rise in other prescription pain medications, such as morphine, fentanyl and hydromorphone, which appear to rise alongside the rate at which these drugs are prescribed in the U.S.

“The report recommends measures such as prescribing opioid medications like OxyContin for acute or chronic pain only after determining that alternatives fail to offer enough pain relief, and monitoring the patient's dose.” In my opinion, the public should be shocked and outraged that this is not already happening.

Apparently, Canada has only recently issued stricter guidelines to ensure doctors are prescribing opioids as more of a last resort treatment.

“As opioids have become more widely used and abused, the number of people who've died as a result of taking opioids has doubled since 1991 to about 300 people a year in Ontario alone, according to a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in December 2009.” These statistics should be very alarming and society should really open their eyes. Addiction has many faces.


Oxycodone: An opioid analgesic medication synthesized from opium-derived thebaine. It was developed in 1916 in Germany, as one of several new semi-synthetic opioids in an attempt to improve on the existing opiates and opioids: morphine, diacetylmorphine (heroin), and codeine.

History: Freund and Speyer of the University of Frankfurt in Germany first synthesized oxycodone from thebaine in 1916, a few years after the German pharmaceutical company Bayer had stopped the mass production of heroin due to hazardous use, harmful use, and dependence. It was hoped that a thebaine-derived drug would retain the analgesic effects of morphine and heroin with less dependence.

OxyContin is the brand name of a time-release formula of oxycodone produced by the pharmaceutical company Purdue Pharma. It was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1995 and first introduced to the U.S. market in 1996. By 2001, OxyContin was the best-selling non-generic narcotic pain reliever in the U.S. In 2008, sales in the U.S. totaled $2.5 billion. An analysis of data from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration found that retail sales of oxycodone jumped nearly six-fold between 1997 and 2005.

Other types/brands: Oxy•IR, COR, OxyNorm, Percocet (oxycodone with paracetamol/acetaminophen), Depalgos (oxycodone with paracetamol), Percodan (oxycodone HCl and aspirin), Proladone (suppositories of oxycodone pectinate), Eukodol/Eucodol (Injectable oxycodone hydrochloride or tartrate), Roxicodone, Targin (oxycodone/naloxone).

Side Effects: euphoria, constipation, fatigue, dizziness, nausea, lightheadedness, headache, dry mouth, anxiety, pruritus, diaphoresis, dimness in vision due to miosis, loss of appetite, nervousness, abdominal pain, diarrhea, ischuria, dyspnea, and hiccups. In less than 5% of patients: impotence, enlarged prostate gland, and decreased testosterone secretion.

Special Precautions: In high doses, overdoses, or in patients not tolerant to opiates, oxycodone can cause shallow breathing, bradycardia, cold, clammy skin, apnea, hypotension, miosis (pupil constriction), circulatory collapse, respiratory arrest, and death. There is a high risk of experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms if a patient discontinues oxycodone abruptly.

Hydrocodone or dihydrocodeinone: A semi-synthetic opioid derived from either of two naturally occurring opiates, codeine and thebaine. Hydrocodone is an orally active narcotic analgesic (pain reliever) and antitussive (cough suppressant).

History: Hydrocodone was first synthesized in Germany in 1920 and was approved by the Food and Drug Administration on 23 March 1943 for sale in the United States and approved by Health Canada for sale in Canada under the brand name Hycodan.

Other types/brands: Vicodin, Hydrococet, Symtan, Anexsia, Damason-P, Dicodid, Hycodan (or generically Hydromet), Hycomine, Hycet, Lorcet, Lortab, Norco, Novahistex, Hydrovo, Duodin, Kolikodol, Orthoxycol, Panacet, Zydone, Mercodinone, Synkonin, Norgan, Xodol and Hydrokon.

Side effects: dizziness, lightheadedness, nausea, sweating, drowsiness, constipation, vomiting, and euphoria. Vomiting in some patients is so severe that hospitalization is required. Some less common side effects are allergic reaction, blood disorders, changes in mood, itching, racing heartbeat, mental fogginess, anxiety, lethargy, difficulty urinating, spasm of the ureter, irregular or depressed respiration, and rash.

Special Precautions: Because all commercially available hydrocodone compounds prescribed in the United States contain secondary analgesics, there are serious health risks posed by concurrently consuming any amount of alcohol with hydrocodone compounds. Symptoms of hydrocodone overdose include respiratory depression; extreme somnolence; blue, clammy, or cold skin; narrowed or widened pupils; bradycardia; coma; seizures; cardiac arrest; and death.

Methadone: A synthetic opioid, used medically as an analgesic, antitussive and a maintenance anti-addictive for use in patients on opioids. It is commonly approved as an analgesic and for the treatment of opioid dependence. It is also known as Symoron, Dolophine, Amidone, Methadose, Physeptone, Heptadon, Phy and many other names.

History: Methadone was developed in 1939 Germany by scientists working for I.G. Farbenkonzern at the Farbwerke Hoechst who were looking for a synthetic opioid that could be created with readily available precursors, to solve Germany's opium shortage problem. Contrary to popular belief, the drug was was not named either in honour of or personally by Adolf Hitler, but it was given the trade name Dolophine from the Latin dolor meaning pain and "-phine", a typical ending, not unlike so many other trade and chemical names for analgesics of all types in German, English, French, and other languages.

Side effects: Thrombus, Hypoventilation, Constipation, Increased sweating, heat intolerance, Chronic fatigue, sleepiness and exhaustion, Constricted pupils, Nausea, Low blood pressure, Hallucination, Headache, Vomiting, Cardiac arrhythmia, Anorexia, Weight gain, Gynecomastia, Stomach pains, Dry mouth, Perspiration, Flushing, Itching, Difficulty urinating, Swelling of the hands, arms, feet, and legs, Agitation, Mood changes, Blurred vision, Insomnia, Impotence, Skin rash and Seizures.
Abuse of painkillers skyrockets in U.S.


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