According to the CDC, in the last decade, misuse and abuse of prescription painkillers have become one of the most pressing health concerns facing the public. Today, the government organization released a new report, which shows that drug overdoses–many of them from prescription drugs–have officially become more dangerous than car accidents. Maybe it’s time for doctors to change the way they prescribe these powerful pills.
Between 1999 and 2008, the organization says, overdoses as a result of prescription pain killers had quadrupled, and they just keep going up–and it’s not just because patients are getting less smart about how to take their pills. It’s because more painkillers of this kind are being prescribed.
As patients spend less and less actual time speaking with doctors (and more and more prescriptions that they may or may not need), they’re left to their own devices, which can be catastrophic, and lead to dangerously mixed medications–but that’s just one part of the problem. While plenty of folks overdose on their own prescriptions, millions more take someone else’s. In 2010, 12 million Americans admitted to taking someone else’s painkillers “non-medically.” Which means that having powerful (and powerfully addictive) drugs limited only by a doctor’s prescription isn’t enough to keep them out of the hands of those who want them.
But overmedication is a big part of why so many people without prescriptions can get these medicines. Statistically speaking, there are just more pills floating around in the United States today, which means more ways for addicts and potential addicts to get them. In fact, between 1999 and 2010, there were four times as many painkillers prescribed–and yet, it’s unlikely that four times as many people were in pain that needed opiates and narcotics.
Which brings us back to over-medication by doctors, due often to a lack of face-time with patients. When doctors prescribe higher doses or more pills than a patient with pain needs, because it is a “standard” dose, or because they’d rather offer too many than too few, many patients will sell or give away the extras, making it easy for those without pain or a prescription to gain access. Educating patients about the danger of giving away or selling these drugs could help curb this…but what doctor is going to take the time to do that?
Protecting access to prescription painkillers with a prescription is a good first line of defense, but as long as patients continue to receive high doses and huge numbers of the pills, those who aren’t in pain will be able to get around that small hurdle. Tailored prescriptions, less emphasis on medication, better education of patients all require one thing that many people just aren’t getting: more face-time with their doctors. Unfortunately, that seems unlikely to change any time soon.