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Program to Spot Painkiller ODs Saves Lives: Study

FRIDAY, Feb. 1 (HealthDay News) -- Teaching people how to recognize and respond to prescription painkiller overdoses could significantly reduce the number of overdose deaths, a new study suggests.

Overdoses of these powerful opioid drugs are a major cause of emergency hospital admissions and preventable deaths in many countries. Opioids include hydrocodone (brand name Vicodin), oxycodone (OxyContin and Percocet), morphine and codeine.

Since 2005, Massachusetts has had more opioid-related overdose deaths than motor vehicle deaths, so the state introduced several strategies to tackle the problem, including training drug users, their families and friends, and potential bystanders to prevent, recognize and respond to opioid overdoses.

The participants in the overdose education and naloxone distribution (OEND) programs received instruction in how to recognize signs of overdose, seek help, stay with victims and use naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of opioid overdose.

In the study, Alexander Walley, an assistant professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine, and colleagues looked at data from 19 Massachusetts communities that had high levels of opioid overdose and various levels of implementation of OEND programs. Communities with OEND programs had a larger reduction in opioid-related overdose deaths than those without the programs.

The greater the enrollment in OEND programs in communities, the greater the reduction in death rates, according to the study, which was published online Jan. 31 in the journal BMJ.

The findings provide evidence that the programs are an effective way to reduce opioid-related overdose deaths, concluded the team of researchers from the Boston Medical Center, the Boston University Schools of Medicine and Public Health, and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

From 1996 to 2010, more than 50,000 people were trained by OEND programs in the United States, resulting in more than 10,000 opioid overdose rescues, according to background information included in a journal news release.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse has more about opioids.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: BMJ, news release, Jan. 31, 2013

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