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Painkillers Linked to Increase in Overdose Deaths
Date:12/10/2008

More popularity, availability of these medications may be reason, study suggests

TUESDAY, Dec. 9 (HealthDay News) -- Deaths from overdoses of prescription drugs, primarily pain relievers, appear to be on the rise throughout the United States, new research suggests.

West Virginia, in particular, has seen a large increase in such unintentional deaths, say government researchers, who have uncovered patterns of "doctor shopping" for drugs and overdosing on medications not used as prescribed.

"We found that two-thirds of these deaths involved prescription drugs that had not been prescribed to the individuals who died," said the lead researcher, Dr. Aron J. Hall, an epidemic intelligence service officer for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In addition, one in five had "doctor shopped," looking for physicians to prescribe pain medications, particularly opioids like methadone, hydrocodone and oxycodone, Hall said.

"This epidemic of prescription drug overdose involves a substantial amount of substance abuse, and it affects not just West Virginia, but particularly rural areas of the country," Hall said. "It's been a problem throughout the country. Our study focused on West Virginia as the tip of the iceberg."

Hall's group thinks that doctors and pharmacists have a critical role in preventing the misuse of these drugs. "It is essential that they counsel patients not only about the risk of overdose to themselves, but about the risks to those with whom they might share their drugs," he said.

In addition, Hall advises doctors to use prescription monitoring programs, which can tell them if patients are getting drugs from other doctors.

The report is published in the Dec. 10 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

For the study, Hall's team looked at deaths from unintentional overdoses in West Virginia in 2006. From 1999 to 2004, deaths
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