Addressing Prescription Opioid Abuse, Starting with Efforts to Prevent Overdose Deaths

The rise of prescription opioid abuse during the last decade has produced a significant increase in deaths from opioid overdose. Methadone, with 4 million prescriptions written for pain in 2009, has now joined oxycodone, hydrocodone, fentanyl, and morphine as the primary agents.

Overdoses of prescription opioids have also changed the U.S. landscape for poisonings. In the last 3 decades medication contributions to poisoning rates have risen from 55% (1980) to 90% (2004 and 2008), with over 40% of medication related poisonings stemming from prescription opioids.

Recently, much was made by the media when vehicle traffic deaths were exceeded by drug overdose deaths (Figure 1 below), the impetus for this dramatic shift being the rise of prescription opioid abuse (Figure 2 below). In addition to the majority of deaths occurring in 45 to 54 year olds, increases have also occurred in children/ adolescents and the elderly.




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