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24 July 2006
Painkillers Doing A Lot Of Killing

Since the 1990s, drug overdose deaths in America have been skyrocketing. Now, a new study by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has shown the major contributor to be prescription painkillers. The study, appearing in the journal Pharmacoepidemiology and Drug Safety, explains that over the past 15 years, sales of opioid pain killers (including oxycodone, hydrocodone, methadone and fentanyl) have increased dramatically, and deaths from these drugs have increased in parallel.

Researcher Leonard Paulozzi explained that in 2002, over 16,000 people died as a result of drug overdoses, with most deaths related to opioids, heroin, and cocaine. But opioids surpassed both cocaine and heroin in extent of involvement in these drug overdoses between 1999 and 2002. Worse still, the situation appears to be accelerating.

Between 1990 and 2002, the rate of deaths attributed to unintentional drug poisoning increased by 18 percent per year. And between 1999 and 2002, the number of overdose death certificates that mention poisoning by opioid pain killers went up by an astonishing 91 percent.

However, commentators from the Pain & Policy Studies Group, of Madison, Wisconsin, say that much of the abuse of opioid analgesics is by recreational and street users, rather than patients in need of pain relief. It would be wrong, they say, for doctors to have unwarranted fears about using opioid analgesics in pain management.

Scott Fishman, Professor of Pain Medicine at the University of California, commented that drug abuse and under treated pain are both public health crises, but the solution to one need not undermine the other. "The least we can do is make sure that the casualties of the war on drugs are not suffering patients who legitimately deserve relief," he said.

Source: Pharmacoepidemiology and Drug Safety

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