Overprescription of Painkillers Silently Fueling Opioid Abuse Epidemic

Glass of whiskey and painkillers

The overprescription of pain meds might be fueling the country’s opioid abuse epidemic, recent research suggests.

A new study suggests that many physicians prescribe painkillers to their patients way too freely so that more than a half of patients are left with leftovers which they either share with their friends and family members or abuse.

The opioid abuse problem has gone rampant in recent years with more than 160,000 Americans being killed by it between 1999 and 2015. Researchers believe that the main causes behind the problem are both the lack of a regulatory framework and absence of education.

According to the recent study, 60 percent of patients who were prescribed pain meds had leftovers which they kept to (ab)use later.

Additionally, most study participants lacked basic knowledge on how to store the drugs at home and dispose of them safely. Many patients kept the medications within the reach of small children and family members with a drug addiction problem.

Unfortunately, less than 7 percent of these patients turned over the unused pills to drug stores, law enforcement, or the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Alene Kennedy-Hendricks of the Bloomberg School’s Department of Health Policy and Management recently noted that the lack of education when it comes to what are the best ways of storing and disposing of leftover painkillers has silently fueled the opioid epidemic in the U.S.

“These painkillers are much riskier than has been understood,”

Dr. Kennedy-Hendricks said.

Study authors cannot fully grasp why so many of their study participants were left with extra pills, but they suspect that the overprescription of these drugs might be an explanation.

The study involved 1,032 respondents who reportedly used pain meds over the last 12 months. According to the research, 60.6 percent of participants said that they had extra pills at home although they no longer needed them. Of these, about 61 percent explained that they kept the pills for future use. Study authors suspect that many of these respondents may abuse the drugs later.

But one of the most worrying trends among patients with extra pills is that they share leftover medications with other patients leaving gates wide open to more drug abuse. One in five respondents acknowledged that they shared the extra pills with their acquaintances.

Dr. Colleen Barry, co-author of the study, noted that the number of people sharing dangerous painkillers with other people is very concerning. Dr. Barry said that it is ok to share a Tylenol with someone in pain, but it is no longer ok to share an OxyContin with a friend that doesn’t have a prescription for it.

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