According to a report recently released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 15,000 people died in 2008 of overdoses involving prescription painkillers such Vicodin, Oxycontin and Methadone. This is more than three times the number of deaths caused by these drugs in 1999. The number of overdose deaths is now greater than those of deaths from heroin and cocaine combined.
In 2010, about 12 million Americans aged 12 or older reported nonmedical use of painkillers last year. Enough prescription pain medications were prescribed to medicate every American adult around the clock for a month. The CDC cited a study that found 3% of physicians accounted for 62% of the painkillers prescribed. According to the CDC, painkiller abuse costs the U.S. healthcare system $72.5 billion annually from emergency room visits, hospitalizations and other drug treatments. The federal officials said:
Improving the way prescription painkillers are prescribed can reduce the number of people who misuse, abuse and overdose from these powerful drugs, while making sure patients have access to safe, effective treatment.
There are a number of things that can be done by Congress to help curb painkiller abuse. Perhaps the first place to start is to abolish direct consumer advertising by drug manufacturers. That would solve lots of problems for consumers and also for doctors. It’s the responsibility of doctors, not some marketing expert, to decide what medications patients should receive.
Sources: Wall Street Journal and www.cdc.gov
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