Two reports by addiction researchers have shown that there has been a drastic increase in opioid prescriptions in America.
Meanwhile, prescriptions for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) have gone down.
Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and the National Institute on Drug Abuse recommend a comprehensive effort to reduce public health risks while improving patient care, including better training for prescribers, pain management treatment assessment, personal responsibility and public education.
Prescriptions for hydrocodone and oxycodone account for 84.9 percent of opioid prescriptions. Over ten years, there has been a fivefold increase in admissions to substance abuse programs for opioid addiction.
While effective at reducing pain symptoms, opioid medications such as hydrocodone and oxycodone are associated with high rates of abuse, particularly among young adults. One in four 18-25 year olds will abuse prescription pain killers in their lifetime.
Researchers suggest targeting the relatively high rate of prescriptions to adolescents and young adults, who received 11.7 percent of the 202 million opioid prescriptions in the United States during 2009. A large share of the prescriptions to young adults was from dentists, and researchers believe there is a need for medical professionals to evaluate alternative pain medications in this particularly vulnerable age group.
“The scope of the problem is vast – opioid overdose is now the second leading cause of accidental death in the United States and the prevalence is second only to marijuana,” said Thomas McLellan, co-author of the studies and director of the new Center for Substance Abuse Solutions, housed in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.
The reports have been published in JAMA.