A new study found that even after they overdose on opioid medications, nine out of 10 patients can still get prescriptions for powerful painkillers. Consequently, some went on and suffered another overdose.
Published Monday in Annals of Internal Medicine, the results of the study are “highly concerning,” because the study authors explained the overdoses analyzed in the report were severe enough to require visits to the emergency room or get them hospitalized.
Therefore, not only should they not have been allowed to get another prescription, but they shouldn’t have escaped their doctors’ attention. But researchers found this is exactly what happened.
A whopping 70 percent of the overdose cases had the same signature on the before and after prescription for strong opioid painkillers. This suggests that a lot of the prescribers had no idea that something had gone terribly wrong in the meantime.
Dr. Marc Larochelle, who studies addiction issues at the Boston University School of Medicine, wrote that prescribing guidelines “clearly state that misuse of opioids and adverse effects are compelling reasons to discontinue opioids.”
Presumably, doctors would have been more careful before authorizing their refills, had they known about the overdoses. Dr. Larochelle’s team were focused on identify patients with increased risk for a fatal overdose in the light of the 16,651 deaths that occurred in 2010 in relation to prescription painkillers.
Tracking nonfatal overdoses seemed a good starting point, so the researchers used a national medical database to identify almost 3,000 people in the U.S. who had an opioid overdose on their record that was bad enough to have them hospitalized, but not serious enough to be fatal.
All of the participants were suffering from diseases other than cancer which was being treated with long-term opioid therapy. Morphine, oxycodone, codeine, hydrocodone and fentanyl are some of their prescription painkillers.
With 60 percent of these patients being women at the average age of 44, researchers were on the lookout for participants with “large” doses of opioids – roughly 46 percent of the total number.
The main focus, however, was to answer this question: Did these patients continue to get prescription painkillers after having a nearly fatal overdose? It didn’t take long before researchers found out they did.
All in all, a shocking 91 percent of the patients had access to at least one opioid prescription sometime after their non-deadly overdose. Tracking the patients for an average period of 299 days showed that some 7 percent of them suffered a second overdose while they were still monitored for the study.
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