CDC declares epidemic of overdose deaths from opioid pain relievers

November 1, 2011, 4:59 pm


Vital signs: Overdoses of Prescription Opioid Pain Relievers — United States, 1999-2008 MMWR 2011 Nov 1;60:1-6.

Full Text

For this report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) analyzed data from the National Vital Statistics System database. They found that in 2008, there were 36,450 reported drug overdose deaths in the United States. This figure included 20,044 prescription drug overdose deaths.  Opioid pain relievers (OPRs) were involved in 14,800 (74%) of these.The drug overdose death rate has tripled since 1991. The paper references an astounding finding that the diversion (non-medical use) of OPRs costs insurance comapnies up to $72.5 billion annually. Although this is obviously a major problem, I find that figure difficult to believe.

The authors note that there is a wide variation among different states in the incidence of overdose deaths. This seems to be related to the frequency with which OPRs are prescribed.

They conclude that:

Public health interventions to reduce prescription drug overdose must strike a balance between reducing misuse and abuse and safeguarding legitimate access to treatment. To find this balance, health-care providers should only use OPR in carefully screened and monitored patients when non-OPR treatments have not been sufficient to treat pain, as recommended in evidence-based guidelines.”

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