Sustained Outrage

Pain pills and ER visits

Here’s another obvious indicator that prescription drug abuse is running rampant (as if we really needed another): emergency room visits attributed to narcotic pain relievers have doubled in just four years.

In 2004, 144,644 people went to the ER for treatment following non-medical use of pain pills, according to this study from the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration‘s Drug Abuse Warning Network, or DAWN. In 2008, that number was 305,885, an increase of 111 percent.

And here’s a frightening aspect of DAWN’s findings: no one age group or gender seems to account for the spike. The increase is roughly the same for men (110 percent), women (113 percent), people under the age of 21 (113 percent) and 21 and over (112 percent).

The study also breaks the numbers down further, including increases by drug:

— oxycodone, up 152 percent

— hydrocone, up 123 percent

— methadone, up 73 percent

— morphine, up 106 percent

— fentanyl, up 105 percent

— hydromorphone, up 259 percent

The study also splits the numbers down by drug and gender, which reveals some interesting comparisons. Again, these figures reflect an increase in ER visits.

— oxycodone for men, up 148 percent, for women, up 158 percent

— hydrocodone for men, up 137 percent, for women, up 114 percent

— methadone for men, up 59 percent, for women, up 95 percent

— morphine for men, up 124 percent, for women, up 92 percent

— fentanyl for men, up 131 percent, for women, up 87 percent

— hydromorphone for men, up 303 percent, for women, up 234 percent

The study adds:

Among patients younger than 21, the overall increase in ED visits involving the nonmedical use of narcotic pain relievers was driven by increases in visits involving hydrocodone and oxycodone products. Similar to the patterns in ED visits made by patients aged 21 or older, visits by patients younger than 21 that involved hydrocodone products increased 157 percent and those that involved oxycodone products increased 147 percent. Data for visits involving fentanyl products, hydromorphone products, morphine products, and methadone for the younger than 21 age group were either suppressed because of low precision or had percent changes that were not statistically significant (data for drug involvement by age group are not shown).

Pain pills and other narcotic medication were the second leading form of drug abuse in 2008 among Americans 12 and older, behind marijuana, according to the report. The study concludes:

The findings reported here highlight the need to strengthen prevention and education programs designed to reduce the misuse of prescription drugs. Increased efforts are needed to educate the public about the risks of misusing narcotic pain relievers and how to recognize possible symptoms of abuse. Prevention and education campaigns should continue to focus on the dangers of sharing prescription medications, the importance of preventing others from having access to personal prescription medications, and methods for properly disposing of remaining dosage units once the need for medication has passed. Additionally, ongoing efforts are needed to keep doctors and other health care professionals informed about emerging drug problems and to help them understand the importance of exercising care in prescribing pain relievers and monitoring their patients or clients for signs of misuse.

And, just to remind folks, more Americans are dying from drug overdoses than ever before; drug abuse in rural areas is deadlier than in its urban counterpart; and older Americans seem to be abusing drugs more than ever.