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Overdoses From Prescription Painkillers on the Rise
Date:1/19/2010

Use of opioids such as oxycodone, hydrocodone soaring, researchers say

TUESDAY, Jan. 19 (HealthDay News) -- Overdoses from prescription painkillers are increasing in the United States, a new study shows.

Researchers examined pharmacy files on 9,940 adults who took opioids such as oxycodone and hydrocodone for at least three months between 1997 and 2005. The patients, who were insured and members of the Group Health Cooperative in Washington, were prescribed the drugs for chronic pain due to non-cancer causes, including conditions of the back or neck, headaches, jaw pain, pain in the extremities, arthritis and menstrual pain or injuries.

Fifty-one patients overdosed on the drugs; six of the overdoses were fatal, the researchers found.

The risk of overdosing increased with the amount of drug prescribed, according to the study. Those given higher doses had nearly nine times the chance of overdosing as those given lower doses of opioids.

"The rate of overdose was strongly related to dose," said senior study author Michael Von Korff, a senior investigator at the Group Health Research Institute in Seattle. "For patients currently receiving higher-dose regimens, their rate of overdose was almost 2 percent per year, which is a lot."

Patients who were depressed, had a history of substance abuse or who were also taking sedative-hypnotics, such as sleeping pills, had a higher risk of overdosing.

The study is published in the Jan. 19 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

One reason for the greater reliance on opioids is a recognition among physicians that chronic pain is a serious problem, hindering people from working, sleeping and enjoying their lives, Von Korff said.

Use of the drugs also increased after two prominent pain management societies said that pain had been under-medicated because of fears of addiction, said A. Thomas McLellan, deputy director of the
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