A new analysis from Consumer Reports reveals that the ease with which people have been overdosing on prescription painkillers hasn’t lessened. Instead, the annual number of deaths from drugs, like OxyContin, Percocet, and Vicodin, totals a staggering 17,000. Put another way, more people overdose from prescribed drugs than heroin and cocaine combined.
These painkillers are otherwise known as opioids. A separate analysis published in the American Journal of Public Health found that opioid sales to hospitals, clinics, and pharmacies have quadrupled since the 1990s. Similarly, prescription doses have increased by as much as 30 percent, and are generally given out by the millions each year.
As if that weren't bad enough, Consumer Reports revealed that over-the-counter drugs may be just as risky, particularly acetaminophen, which is the active ingredient in Tylenol and Ibuprofen. About 80,000 people wind up in an emergency room as a result of over-consumption each year. What's more, over-consuming acetaminophen can cause liver failure.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, a large part of the problem is the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Despite claims that it would make prescription and non-prescription painkillers safer, reword warning labels, and lower recommended doses, there hasn't been consistency. Consumer Reports found that the FDA pays more attention to prescription painkillers, leaving some OTC drugmakers to suggest as little as 1,000 milligrams a day, while others suggest up to four times as much.
Formulating and carrying out a cohesive plan of attack on the problem that is prescription painkiller abuse and overdose is the only way the growing number of related deaths will decline. Until then, there are overdose reversal drugs, like Evzio, and overdose prevention programs patients can, and should, take advantage of.
Beyond that, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends taking pills only as directed, whether they're prescription or not. Afterward, discard whatever is leftover. Having them gone eliminates future temptation, as well as easy access for friends and family. In fact, 55 percent of people who abuse prescription pain pills are those who crowdsource, finds the CDC.
Most importantly, when pain strikes, know that there are pill-free ways to find relief. Massages, acupuncture, and even exercise have been proven to aid various types of pain. We're willing to bet it's better on your wallet, too.