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Prescription Drugs: overprescribed, overdosed, abused

Over-prescribed, overdosed
November 9, 2011

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says an oversupply of prescription painkillers is fueling an epidemic of overdoses.
Properly prescribed, these drugs are important for patients. But a lot of the drugs wind up on the streets, through thefts from patients’ homes, forgery rings, doctor shopping, illegal online sales, and some doctors who prescribe improperly.
CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden:
“Prescription painkillers kill 40 Americans every day. Last year, doctors prescribed enough painkillers for every adult in America to take for a month.” (9 seconds)
People who use prescription painkillers can help by storing them in a safe place.

Deaths from prescription painkillers* have reached epidemic levels in the past decade. The number of overdose deaths is now greater than those of deaths from heroin and cocaine combined. A big part of the problem is nonmedical use of prescription painkillers—using drugs without a prescription, or using drugs just for the “high” they cause. In 2010, about 12 million Americans (age 12 or older) reported nonmedical use of prescription painkillers in the past year.

Enough prescription painkillers were prescribed in 2010 to medicate every American adult around-the-clock for a month. Although most of these pills were prescribed for a medical purpose, many ended up in the hands of people who misused or abused them.

Improving the way prescription painkillers are prescribed can reduce the number of people who misuse, abuse or overdose from these powerful drugs, while making sure patients have access to safe, effective treatment.

* “Prescription painkillers” refers to opioid or narcotic pain relievers, including drugs such as Vicodin (hydrocodone), OxyContin (oxycodone), Opana (oxymorphone), and methadone.

The report is in the Vital Signs section of CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

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