Despite more than a decade of booming use of narcotic painkillers for chronic pain conditions, solid evidence of the long-term safety and effectiveness of the drugs is scant to nonexistent, research published Monday concluded.
One group of researchers noted there have been only short-term studies — and none extending a year or more — evaluating opioids on pain, function or quality of life. Another group noted that data supporting long-term use of opioids for chronic pain is extremely limited.
The two papers, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, highlight a key issue in one of the major medical controversies of the last decade: how America got thrust into an opioid epidemic.
Painkillers have been identified as one of the primary causes of lethal overdoses, not to mention widespread drug addiction. Prescriptions for opioid painkillers have risen by a staggering 300 percent over the past 10 years.
According to 2010 data, there were enough narcotic painkillers being prescribed in the US to medicate every single adult, around the clock, for a month. As of 2012, 259 million prescriptions for opioids and other narcotic painkillers were written.
This equates to 82.5 prescriptions for every 100 Americans, and those narcotics are responsible for 46 deaths per day. The excessive use of over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers like acetaminophen is equally troublesome, accounting for about 100,000 emergency room visits each year due to overdosing.
Death Toll from Opioids Still Rising
On January 12, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released its 2013 Drug Overdose Mortality Data,7 which shows no improvement in mortality rates associated …
Over the past 15 years, Purdue Pharma, maker of OxyContin, and other opioid manufacturers have sponsored a campaign to encourage wide-scale, long-term prescribing of opioids for common chronic conditions like fibromyalgia and low back pain. Previously, doctors had been reluctant to use opioids long-term because they were worried about causing addiction. But company-sponsored education misled doctors to believe that addiction was rare and that withholding opioids was cruel.
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