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June 17th, 2010
09:20 PM ET

Opiate-caused ER visits skyrocket

By Val Willingham
CNN Medical Producer

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the most common poisonings treated in emergency departments in the United States, are caused by misuse of opioid pain medications.  It is estimated that at least 980,000 people in the United States are currently addicted to some type of opiates.

So it's no surprise that a recent study, conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found a 111 percent increase in emergency room visits involving non-medical use of prescription opioid pain relievers.

The increase happened over a five year period. Looking at statistics from 2004 to 2008, the estimated number of emergency department visits linked to non-medical use of prescription pain relievers rose from 144,644 visits to 305,885 visits a year, more than doubling the amount of cases. The study used data from SAMHSA's Drug Abuse Warning Network emergency department system, which examines emergency department visits for non-medical use of legal drugs, such as using them without a prescription.

Study authors also noted age and gender were non-factors. The dramatic rise occurred in both men and women, as well as among those younger and older than 21.

"The abuse of prescription drugs is our nation's fastest-growing drug problem." exclaims Office of National Drug Control Policy Director Gil Kerlikowske.

Three prescription opioids stood out as drugs most frequently used in these emergency cases. Oxycodone (used for severe to moderate pain) incidents rose 152 percent. Hydrocodone (powerful analgesic/cough suppressant) products were up 123 percent and Methadone (strong analgesic/chronic pain) episodes rose to 73 percent. All three are medically prescribed to treat moderate to severe discomfort, but many times are used for getting high, leading many people to overdose on them.

Interestingly the numbers of emergency department visits involving non-medical use of other types of prescription pain relievers such as morphine, fentanyl and hydromorphone were lower than the prior drugs mentioned, but they also showed sharp rises during this period Investigators say these upward trends reflect in part dramatic increases in the rate at which these drugs are prescribed in the United States.

"We urgently need to take action," says CDC director Dr. Thomas Frieden.
"Emergency department visits involving non-medical use of these prescription drugs are now as common as emergency department visits for use of illicit drugs. These prescriptions medicines help many people, but we need to be sure they are used properly and safely."

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


soundoff (179 Responses)
  1. CW

    My brother died at age 30 from fentanyl overdose in 2006. 46 days before his best freind and roomate died of the exact same thing. About 2 weeks after the friends death my brother was put into the hospital with a fentanyl overdose. He was in the rehab facility for 2 weeks and they kept giving him the fentanyl. 2 weeks after his release, with the meds they gave him, he overdosed again. But this time he died. It was very hard and I feel sorry for those of you who have loved ones who will meet this same fate. There must be procedures in place that recognize that these addicts are excellent at procuring these drugs. They are very convincing and people are too gulable. NO EXCUSES, The fact is people are profiting from these deaths. The Drug companies and Doctors prescribing these drugs must come up with a better plan.

    June 21, 2010 at 15:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. CSO

    Go figure.

    Anytime I see articles like these, they make me see red. Articles on how painkillers/opiates are being abused/killing people. Then the ensuing comments from both medical personnel and those with personal tragedies, or both... 100+ comments later... It's hard to put my feelings into words because of my own 'tragedy' here.

    Long story short: Car accident in 2004, totaled my car, my airbag never deployed and my seatbelt failed. Honda paid a good price for the seatbelt failure, but it's gone; wrapped up in doctor and hospital bills.

    I've seen everybody; primary care to internal medicine, to finally getting the referrals needed, to more specialists shrugging... in the meantime, to massage therapy, to physical therapy (both manual and aquatic), to chiropractic care, to acupuncture... lots of time and money, gone.... within the last year or so, finally ending up in pain management... I was asked, "How did this happen?", I tell him about the accident... and his response was, "Yes, that's what they all say." I've heard that before. I've given everyone the documentation and even photos... I've ended it now having had a therapist tell me, "You probably won't see proper care for this until you reach your thirties, unfortunately."

    So, I've got four more years, at least? Four more years of these wretched NSAIDs that have me on chronic PPIs along with them, for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. Chronic pain with no help is just as tragic as the flip side of the coin, in my opinion. I'm hoping to see the day that it doesn't take me hours through tears to do a load of laundry, or even to wear my wedding rings again, before my stomach perforates from all of the NSAID crap they say is "safer". 🙂

    June 21, 2010 at 23:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Tbaby

    I believe that more should be done ot the doctors. I am a substance abuse counselor and the numbers are even more alarming than we think. I see at least 80 to 90 percent of my clients are under 30 years old. They have been using opiates for at leas the past five to ten years on average. These drugs are in the schools as early as middle school. The doctors need to be sanctioned for their continued misuse of writing a prescriptions. More and more you see doctors continue to prescibe xanax and opiates. These two drug are a deadly combination. What are we to do? We need to be more proactive in our protest of what is going on in are towns and cities. The should be a national out cry since there are so many young people dying from the disease of addction. I caution anyone who knows that there child or someone they love who is using these drugs it is likely that they may already be addicted.

    June 22, 2010 at 09:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Michele

    I watched and learned the hard way about prescription addiction my brother was addicted to a long list of painkillers for 6 years he couldn't stop after overdosing a few times he continued and one month ago he was found dead in his room at 27 years old he would hop from doctor to doctor or buy them on the streets anyway he could get it. Now I don't have my brother and my world is turned upside down I hate pills they are overprescribed and its sad for the peiple that really need them. He was tortured for years with his addiction and now my parents,family his friends and myself are suffering his addiction.

    June 24, 2010 at 20:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. truthy

    Controlled substances should have the same pre-authorization requirements on them as other expensive treatments that insurance companies want to limit payment. Terminal cancer, neurosurgical illness waiting for corrective surgery,and the immediate periods following severe post traumatic injuries. Everyone else should have an annual limit on the amount they can get 10-15 tablets maximum annually. Anybody who thinks that there are other reasons to have them is AN addict.

    June 25, 2010 at 20:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. ontariogal

    A family member just found her best friend in her apartment last night. In her early 50's, dead from over prescribing of pain medications from a disgusting doctor who knew she was addicted. She had not one medical condition mandating even mild narcotic prescriptions let alone the toxic and deadly combination of very strong drugs that were handed to this woman month after month, for years.
    This is a serious problem that needs a concrete goal driven solution based approach from the medical community. One that will help eliminate doctors becoming drug dealers while ensuring those with legitimate need for pain management aren't falling through the cracks.
    I get so angry I sometimes think governments stand idle in order to allow the doctors to prescribe heavy handedly in a effort to weed out the "undesirables". I know that sounds crazy and is likely just my anger, but I don't get what is in it for the doctors who are prescribing this way. Nor do I understand why the government hasn't worked harder to ensure strict standards for safe prescribing to only those in legitimate need who use only according to sound medical advice.

    July 8, 2010 at 16:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Blit

    I'll make this simple.... This gov. has lost sight of the fact that they are employees of the tax payers. Every 4 to 6 years they get a job performance review. This gov. has chosen to get involved in it's employee's health care. On November the review will be assessed and acted upon. The message will be: you're fired! As for sticking you nose in our patient/Dr. relationship, we will stop you. We will not allow you, as employees, to interfere with your boss's health care relationships. You are to stay out of my doctor's office...you are to stay out of my medicine cabinet...you are to stay as far away from my private, personal information as possible. As your boss, you risk losing your job if you continue trying to regulate, interfere, "take action" in places you have no business in! We, as Americans, do make mistakes, but in this country we have the freedom to make mistakes with fear of a meddling, possibly tyrannical, over zealous government. Again, if that wasn't clear: stay out of my business, health care relationships, medicine cabinet, and life or I / we will fire you. This a message that will be realized this November. So, let this and you fall spanking be a lesson! We will not allow you to get involved with the prescribing of pain medication as less than one percent of prescribed receivers get addicted or even have a problem using the medication. You through out stats that sound shocking, but you fail to give the full stat. Problems may be increasing, but less than one percent represent the problem you present as a catastrophy. The fact is the federal government has Been trying to ban the very same meds they have mentioned in this article for a long time. They put doctors in jail, they emit a culture of fear within the medical community to the point that people are made to suffer. This will stop. There is push back among doctors. And to the Feds: as our employees, if you want to keep your jobs, you will get out of our faces and the faces of our doctors and allow the freedom that has existed for over 200 years to continue. There will be abusers, but they will not affect the ability for doctors to prescribe pain medication with out fear. I've been alive a long time and I know one thing for sure...the American people always have the last word..and we will in this matter as well.

    August 15, 2010 at 09:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Blit....corrected version

    I want this to be clear, not smeared with typos.

    I'll make this simple.... This gov. has lost sight of the fact that they are employees of the tax payers. Every 4 to 6 years they get a job performance review. This gov. has chosen to get involved in it's employer's health care. On November the review will be assessed and acted upon. The message will be: you're fired! As for sticking your nose in our patient/Dr. relationship, we will stop you. We will not allow you, as employees, to interfere with your boss's health care relationships. You are to stay out of my doctor's office...you are to stay out of my medicine cabinet...you are to stay as far away from my private, personal information as possible. As your boss, you risk losing your job if you continue trying to regulate, interfere, "take action" in places you have no business in! We, as Americans, do make mistakes, but in this country we have the freedom to make mistakes with out the fear of a meddling, possibly tyrannical, over zealous government. Again, if that wasn't clear: stay out of my business, health care relationships, medicine cabinet, and life or I / we will fire you. This a message that will be realized this November. So, let this fall spanking be a lesson! We will not allow you to get involved with the prescribing of pain medication as less than one percent of prescribed receivers get addicted or even have a problem using the medication. You put out stats that sound shocking, but you fail to give the full stat. Problems may be increasing, but less than one percent represent the problem you present as a catastrophy. The fact is the federal government has Been trying to ban the very same meds they have mentioned in this article for a long time. They put doctors in jail, they emit a culture of fear within the medical community to the point that people are made to suffer. This will stop. There is push back among doctors. And to the Feds: as our employees, if you want to keep your jobs, you will get out of our faces and the faces of our doctors and allow the freedom that has existed for over 200 years to continue. There will be abusers, but they will not affect the ability for doctors to prescribe pain medication with out fear. I've been alive a long time and I know one thing for sure...the American people always have the last word..and we will in this matter as well.

    August 15, 2010 at 10:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Greg Lewis

    Hi I have suffered from cancer since 1992 and also major back problems sicne 1996, Today in Fayettteville NC I was just recently served with not 5 or 6 but 10 warrants for obtaining opiates and or heroin over 28 grams. I need advice please.I could uderstand if I was mis using the medication and there were times I ran out too soon...but I just had cancer surgery Feb 11, 2010 and a laminectomy back surgery Aust 25, 2010. 3 days later i was served wtih these papers... Can any one help me try to gain my dignity as well as my reputable standing in the medical world now this has happened. I go tomorrow for my first prelimary court...the police officer told me I would be allowed to get a continuance to give me time to get an attorney. I'iv never been so scarred in my life. im a 49 yr old male, thats never seen the inside of a jail house where they book people or process them...all which they did to me today. I do not fully understand my charges other than I got medicine too soon by going to the ER...I was in so much pain I did not know what to do. I thought I did the correct thing ...i did not go to the streets buy pills.i'm totally scarred. my mother 87 yrs old and in frailled health I'm afraid this is going to kill her...not to mention put me in a tail spin of undending pain myslelf. If anyone can help please i would be grateful
    Sincerely, Gregory Lewis

    September 2, 2010 at 01:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. brzimmer

    New statistic: 6-8 percent of high school kids are addicted to opiates; the predominant source of which originates from ER's. As an ER physician, I know that lortab gets about a dollar a milligram on the street. I refuse to contribute to this nonsense; get your pain medicine from your PCP and stay out of the ER. The ER is for life threatening / limb threatening emergencies; anything less is a waste of time, resources, and usually tax payers dollars (medicaid). I don't believe you when you tell me that your pain meds were stolen, your PCP wont call you back, you lost your prescription, you left it in your car after your car was towed away, blah, blah, blah, BS, BS, BS. And by the way, I don't believe in fibromyalgia. ER physicians jokingly refer it to as fibromyass behind your backs. However, can't wait for the full effects of medical reform to take effect; believe me fellow ER docs; it will be worth the price of admission to see the wide eyed and gaping mouths of Americans when they get what they voted for. No more complaining to hospital administration anymore america; you can now voice your concerns directly to the deaf ears of the white house.

    September 11, 2010 at 18:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Lilly Walcott

    The huge growth of the buy prescription drugs – hydrocodone, lortab, oxycodone or vicodin – has increased significantly in 2010. Apparently the clinics for pain have not given the expected result, because while the purchasing power of drugs has fallen online, to increased drug abuse through the clinics for pain. I hope to FDA take the actions necessary to this end in good order.

    Lilly Walcott
    Findrxonline

    March 25, 2011 at 17:36 | Report abuse | Reply
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  15. My Generation

    Out troops are oversea gaurding poppy fields, Our military is shipping opium over by the cartel loads. rise in opiate/heroin addicts in the lat 10 years?? yuh think??...

    May 21, 2013 at 02:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. My Generation

    Afganistan is the #1 source of poppy... thats why were over seas folks.. it used to be coke now its dope. ever heard of Gary Webb?

    May 21, 2013 at 02:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Joline Eiseman

    Many substances can bring on withdrawal-an effect caused by cessation or reduction in the amount of the substance used. Withdrawal can range from mild anxiety to seizures and hallucinations.Drug overdose may also cause death.,'..^

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    July 5, 2013 at 22:25 | Report abuse | Reply
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