People who misuse prescription pain relievers all have one thing in common: a recent history of illicit drug use.
This conclusion was reached by a University of Georgia nationwide study using responses from over 13,000 people to a questionnaire investigating their drug use behavior. The questionnaire is part of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The annual survey collects data on the use of tobacco, alcohol, illicit drugs, prescription drugs, and mental health problems among individuals aged 12 and older.
“Male or female, black or white, rich or poor, the singular thing we found was that if they were an illicit drug user, they also had many, many times higher odds of misusing prescription pain relievers,” said Orion Mowbray, an assistant professor in the School of Social Work and the UGA study’s lead author.
Prescription pain relievers represent the majority of all prescription drugs that are abused in the U.S., and misuse has risen dramatically in recent years. Pain relievers containing synthetic opioids like hydrocodone and oxycodone are the most over-used prescription drugs.
The CDC also reported an increase in opioid related mortality over the decade 1999-2008. Increases in emergency room treatments for opioid misuse that included both accidental overdoses and suicide attempts rose 183% in 2004 to 2011, according to a 2013 report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
The reason for the increase is not clear, but the report offers possible solutions to address the problem.
“If we know how people come to possess the pain relievers they misuse, we can design better ways to lower that likelihood,” said Mowbray. “This study gives us the knowledge we need to substantially reduce the opportunities for misuse.”
The UGA researchers determined that adults aged 50 and above were more likely to acquire pain relievers through the use of more than one doctor – a behavior known as “doctor shopping” – whereas younger individuals were more likely to acquire them from friends, family, or drug dealers.
The researchers recommend use of the doctor-patient relationship to curb this trend.
“Doctors may conduct higher quality conversations with older patients about the consequences of drug use before they make any prescription decisions, while families and friends should know about the substantial health risks before they supply a young person with a prescription pain reliever,” said Mowbray.
The study also calls for greater coordination between medical care providers to reduce the possibility of over-prescription of painkillers, and for improving the communication between doctors, patients and the public. Recent implementations of prescription monitoring programs introduced in 49 states are also designed to reduce the acquisition of prescription medications from multiple doctors.
The study, “Prescription pain reliever misuse prevalence, correlates, and origin of possession throughout the life course,” is available online at the URL listed below.
Prescription pain reliever misuse prevalence, correlates, and origin of possession throughout the life course Addictive Behaviors Volume 50, November 2015, Pages 22–27.
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