The abuse of prescription painkillers is on the rise in nearly every demographic, including teenagers and the elderly. Prescription drug overdoses have tripled from 1990 to 2008, and in the final year of this study, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recorded more than 36,000 fatalities. Determining who is truly at fault for these deaths is a start in the right direction, but since the circumstances are unique with each individual, only an experienced drug lawsuit attorney or a class action drug lawsuit attorney is qualified to make this distinction. Prescription Painkiller Fatalities Painkillers are not the only prescription medications to be abused, but they are the most popular. Opioid pain relievers, which include Vicodin, OxyContin and Percocet, are abused more than both benzodiazepines, such as Valium and Xanax, and amphetamines, such as Adderall and Ritalin. In addition to those who have prescriptions for opioid medications, more than 12 million others have reported to use them for nonmedical purposes in 2010. From 1999 to 2008, the U.S. experienced a 300 percent increase in the use of prescription painkillers, and in 2008, more than 14,800 deaths occurred as a result of overdoses. This is higher than the number of deaths caused that year by heroin and cocaine combined. Just one year later, in 2009, emergency rooms admitted 475,000 people whose primary problems were caused by pain medications. Drug Combinations Nearly half of all people who have died from prescription painkillers had at least one other drug in their systems at the time. Although cocaine, heroin and benzodiazepines have all been regularly found in victims' bloodstreams, the leading combination drug in these deaths is alcohol. Prescription painkillers and alcohol work in similar ways, and when taken together, the effects are strengthened synergistically, which means that the effects of both are stronger than when they are taken separately. Both opioids and alcohol cause sleepiness, sedation and slowed breathing. In many cases, patients who overdose stop breathing altogether. Most Painkillers Are Legitimately Prescribed Nearly all prescription painkillers involved in overdose deaths originate from legitimate prescriptions. However, not every victim obtained his or her opioid pain medications from a doctor. Once a patient receives a prescription, the medications may be sold to or stolen by addicts. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimates that three out of every four people who misuse painkillers obtain them from other people with prescriptions. A few groups have been found that have an elevated risk of overdosing from painkillers. The people who are most at risk are as follows:
- Doctor shoppers - Those who acquire prescriptions from multiple doctors are almost always abusers.
- Those who take high doses on a daily basis
- People who take other habit-forming drugs with painkillers
- Low-income individuals - Statistics show that Medicaid patients are prescribed painkillers at twice the rate of patients not on Medicaid, and they are six times more likely to suffer from an overdose.
- People with mental health conditions or a history of addiction
Preventing Overdoses The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends several actions and programs aimed at preventing or reducing overdoses. However, individual states are responsible for making these programs available. State governments are critical in reversing what is quickly becoming an overdose epidemic. Some of the most effective programs in the fight against painkiller abuse are prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs). These programs use central databases established by the states to track the sale and dispensing of certain dangerous drugs. These databases help physicians identify high-risk patients and patients who are already being prescribed addictive drugs by other doctors. Patients and families who have already experienced an overdose are recommended to contact a prescription drug lawsuit lawyer. An injury from prescription drugs lawyer will be able to determine if compensation for damages is possible.