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."

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soundoff (199 Responses)
  1. Sandy L

    Doctors are prescribing these drugs to senior citizens & their caregivers are misusing them. BEWARE

    June 18, 2010 at 08:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Denise Krochta

    It is disconcerting to me to see these statistics over and over. This problem was already major when my teenage son was addicted to Oxcycontin (2003 and 2004) wreaking havoc on our world. During that time in our small town alone, he attended funerals of three of his peers and there were others who died, just not specifying that this was the cause of death.
    It is sad to see that this problem has worsened over these past 5 years. I see it in the paper every day. The statistics in my small town alone are not good. I read somewhere the other day that there is an average of two deaths a month( of premature deaths by drug abuse), mostly prescription pain medication. I live in Florida where there are more "pain clinics" than MacDonalds.
    This abuse is very bad for the addict, but devastating for those who love them. What can we do???

    June 18, 2010 at 09:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. mrnatural

    Interesting how these man-made drugs, which are legal, yet abused show an increase in ill effects.

    Please give us statistics on the preponderonce of marijuana overdosing.

    June 18, 2010 at 09:27 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Testosterone

      Marijuana is not used to treat pain.

      January 5, 2011 at 04:32 | Report abuse |
  4. Kenster

    It is widely known that a small percentage of humans have one or a collection of "addiction genes" that makes them more likley to become addicted to most anything that can be abused from food, to drugs, to sex, to alcohol, to the Internet, anything really. If we use the numbers from this article for presecription drugs this percentage is around 6% of the US population.

    In the case of drugs in general IMHO they should continue to be highly regulated but to criminlize some drugs and offer others, often equally or more addictive, legally with only a perscription makes no sense.

    The problem is addictive personality traits not legal or illegal. Money needs to be put into studying addiction, to get at the root causes, along with clinics and education help to improve the lives of those who struggle with addiction. Spending millions in a Colombian jungle to kill a few coca plants, or chasing a few boats in the open ocean is ludicrous. Even limiting the sale of painkillers in Florida will not help the folks with addiction problems. We have to understand addiction that is where the laser focus needs to be.

    June 18, 2010 at 09:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Paindoc

    I think that opioids if properly used, and properly prescribed, are a valuable PART of the treatment of pain. Pain can not and should not be treated by soley pills. These patients need psychologic counseling/support, physical/occupational therapies, interventional pain injections/procedures/surgeries when appropriate. There are practitioners out there who do have experience, and some with formal medical education and training in the field of Pain Medicine (which very few patients, and even clinicians even are aware). For hard to treat pain, just ramping up the dose of Percocets, Vicodins, or now the "en vogue" Methadone, is not appropriate. I have found that many non-pain trained clinicians, mostly with good intentions, are "dablling" in these medications and this is dangerous. I would not, as a board-certified and fellowship trained pain physician prescribe chemotherapies or more complex antibiotics. The same should hold for pain medicines. Refer to a specialist who has more experience and credentials to treat many of these tough cases with their multi-faceted approaches, as well as in experiences of monitoring these medications.

    June 18, 2010 at 09:31 | Report abuse | Reply
    • DorisMac

      I have lived with back pain for YEARS. I tried everything, PT had to be halted because they were hurting me more, injections, pills, then finally 5 surgeries. Unfortunately, the surgeries were unsuccessful. I see a licensed Pain Management Doctor. I have constant pain. My doctor is a lifesaver. The medication is the only thing that takes the edge off the pain. Over the years, we've had to change my meds, dosages, etc. He monitors me very carefully. I asked him after all these years on pain meds, why am I not an addict? His response was I don't have an addictive personality. He said he is willing to try new meds with me because I only use them for pain. I am proactive with my dr. I bring in my bottle of meds and we discuss MY usage. There are millions of people suffering who need these medications. I think if more doctors were like mine, we would have less ER visits. Of course, everything I said here, is IMHO and based on my experiences.

      June 18, 2010 at 11:38 | Report abuse |
  6. Legend

    Well, whadda ya know? They implement prescription monitoring across the nation, and all of a sudden MORE people are in emergency rooms for abusing them, NOT LESS. Here is the rub, AMERICA. Once the feds puke you into a database that is easy and convenient for everyone to access- and I am talking not only about the legitimate reviewers of medicinal opiod use, but also those gaming the database to go find and lift some meds- (can you hear me, yee brothers in Law Enforcement?)-then your chances of having a "loss event" (someone targeting you to steal your meds, who later ends on a gurney in an emergency ward) shoot through the roof.
    Even BEFORE I LEARNED ABOUT the Prescription Monitoring Program being implemented in North Carolina (we were in this system long before we were notified, while the local law enforcement concerns leveraged our personal data by conducting illegal, fourth amendment- eviscerating investigations derived from the PMP Database), I noticed, and photographed people laying up where I frequented, waiting to steal my meds. If you truly want to stanch the numbers of people in emergency wards, quit affording easy access to our names and residential information by placing us in Prescription Monitoring Databases which are all to convenient for just any bad guy IN THE SYSTEM to transmit by a quick phone call or text.
    Prescription Monitoring is the CULPRIT here, folks, not the cure. If it worked, these numbers would not give it the lie it is. How else are so many MORE ending up badly, I ask you? Those who seek to steal it now have a guide book for locations all across the nation, you fools. It's called the PMP, and it's out of control and worthless.

    June 18, 2010 at 09:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Emmaleah

    This is so dreadful because it means that someone like myself - a chronic pain sufferer since a severe neck injury at age 6 caused damage to my vertebra and involved my brainstem - is not getting the treatment they need. I am not allowed a sufficient dose of the medication I need because it's one that's abused. My Drs tell me that outright. They do not want to be the Dr who lets me get hooked, even if my chances of addiction are (according to studies) nearly nil, and even if more medication would make my life productive.

    It's not just me suffering like this, so many others do. It's terrible and it's wrong to make us suffer because of someone else's actions.

    June 18, 2010 at 10:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Rob

    Is this really an increase in the general population or is Rush Limbaugh skewing the data?

    June 18, 2010 at 10:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Elizabeth

    I wonder how many of these are actually people self-medicating because they are out of work and can't afford or simply don't have access to medical coverage. Perhaps instead of going to the Dr. they are just buying pain killers and using them without medical supervision... I wouldn't assume that everyone is just using them just to get high...

    June 18, 2010 at 10:07 | Report abuse | Reply

      i agree with you elizabeth i have been turned away from several dr. visits and er rooms and given hydrocodone and told to go home and deal with my pain. I have Chrons Disease, Spinal Stenosis, Fibroymaglia, and now kidney failure. Each of the dr told me to go away due to no health insurance. What do we do? My dr my no means even gives me enough to think about getting rid of the pain, in fact ive begged him to keep them and treat the problem and was told that w/o health insurance his hands were tied. I have a 23mo old, 8mo old and a 16, 13 yr old. Americas health care industry sucks! i know people that go to our local er and have nothing wrong say they hurt and are treated like gold with no insurance, but yet i have chronic medical conditions and get told to leave i cant be helped. PLEASE how can this be?

      September 1, 2010 at 09:06 | Report abuse |
  10. sagebrush

    The first paragraph should read "the DELIBERATE misuse of opioid pain medications". More taxpayer money being wasted on idiots who cannot or will not be responsible for their own actions. I suppose that Obama care will use my money to take care of these fools.

    June 18, 2010 at 10:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Gary

    You know when I was a kid back in the late 70s/early 80s people generally just smoked weed. Never heard of a person over dosing on weed. Seriously, how can you not blame the industy and doctors on how all this began.

    June 18, 2010 at 10:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Methadone

    Isn't methadone primarily used as substitution treatment to combat heroin addiction and rarely used as an analgesic? In fact, I believe the FDA issued a warning several years ago about using methadone as a first-line analgesic. It's difficult to predict the pharmacokinetic profile of methadone compared to sustain-released OxyContin.

    June 18, 2010 at 10:20 | Report abuse | Reply
    • DorisMac

      I was perscribed Methadone. I knew it was used for heroin withdrawl, but never knew it could be used for pain. It was the most successful drug I was perscribed. I never got that "high" feeling from it. Unfortunately, it stopped working after 2 years. It was and remains, a seldom used option for my pain doc.

      June 18, 2010 at 11:48 | Report abuse |
  13. Marvin

    It's pretty sad that these drugs are legal, and yet they are clearly addictive, dangerous, and run/pushed by greedy pharmaceudical companies. There is certainly legitimate reasoning for prescribing medication for people's pain, but there are other options! When are people going to go back to the natural cures that are out there and legalize medical marijuana nationwide? It does not threaten your life nor your health – it grows in the ground and does not need to be processed and resold in a form that is potentially fatal! Time to wake up America! The question behind the question is [as always] money – let's make sure we vote for the bills on the state ballot this November across this country that can help the 1+ million Americans enslaved to these other drugs.

    June 18, 2010 at 10:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Stephen

    So I guess opiates are the opiate of the nation.

    June 18, 2010 at 10:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Jon

    I work as a probation & parole officer and it seems more and more of my cases are turning out to be opiate abuse. They are no longer confined to just the norm drugs. They are also finding it's easier to get prescribed because all they have to say to the doctor is that they are having pain in their back (which is the majority excuse that I hear).

    June 18, 2010 at 10:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. mr mikie

    This is a direct reflection of our current social state. If you look at the years they used to do the statistics, you can see a direct correlation to the availability of prescription drugs on the internet. A person can buy many prescription drugs online without seeing a doctor. This opens up the possibilty for street drug traffickers to move these online drugs to the street with little or no effort. That coupled with the socio-economic times and stress created its no wonder there has been an up tick in the use of these drugs. people just can't cope with the current world condition without drugs.

    June 18, 2010 at 10:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Rick McDaniel

    You know......the concept that people are living longer and enjoying it, doesn't change a basic truth.......the older you get, the more likely you will suffer from some form of chronic pain, that can only be relieved, with drugs.

    There really is a limit to how old people should live.

    June 18, 2010 at 10:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Jen Markley

    In the ER where I work, doctors give narcotics like candy. Since in our state doctors can and have been sued for not dealing with patients pain "appropriately", and 10% of their salary depends on patient satisfaction scores, all of our drug seekers continue to come–day after day, week after week, and make up stories–"I fell", "my stomach hurts", "I have a headache".....and they know that they will be given whatever opiod they desire. Let's deal with this issue first.

    June 18, 2010 at 10:34 | Report abuse | Reply
    • harry harrington

      I am gladto here some states let the dr. and patient work together on pain management. In my case I have rsd and believe me it is severe. I have had two very good drs. treat me and I have to understand that she has to put up with a bunch of crap from the goverment. The fact that she has chronic pain heips them understand to some degree although hers is different type pain at least she has understaning and so does he. I am grateful to some degree otherwise I would not be alive. I still think sucidal at tmes when it seems to much, medicince is a science only the patient knows his full pain it is my opion pain is way undertreated in the u.s. I believe this is one more reason people buy street drugs. undertreatment of severe pain.
      . I would give anything for a better quality of life and any job.

      September 19, 2010 at 02:21 | Report abuse |
  19. Boolie

    Opioates are good medications that get a bad reputation because of the people who abuse them and then subsequently overdose on them. I happden to be a patient who is treated by a specialist who understands pain medication from every facet. He prescribes strong opioids to patients like me who have a ligitimate medical reason to use them. But that's the point. I USE my medication as it is prescribed and as a result I live a full life full of quality and without pain. My doctor is so meticulous about how he prescribes the medications that he makes his patients bring their medicine with them to each monthly visit so he can count the tablets to ensure there has been no abuse. More doctors should be adequately trained NOT to be afraid to prescribe these medications and at the same time realize there will always be those individuals who seek these drugs to get high. Each person is responsible for what they do and it is not the fault of ANY doctor who expects that patient to be responsible. If that patient leaves and then swallows th whole bottle, it certainly is not the fault of any doctor.

    June 18, 2010 at 10:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Chuck

    I am a chronic pain patient on a whopping dose of Oxycontin,at 480mg daily for fibromyagia x myofascil pain syndrome and degenerative joint disease.I vomit daily from opiate use.And it is prescribed to me legally.I went from 400lbs to 234lbs in 2 years of vomiting.Why would anyone want to feel like death like I do.I even have a prescription for Marinol which is synthetic cannabis in a pill.All it does is make me paranoid.Enter medical quality cannabis.If I were to be able to grow my own medicine legally,I could toss the opiates and anti-emetics and live a somewhat comfortable life.It would cost my insurance company nothing for me to "Treat myself".Come on America,can't you see where this prescription drug abuse is headed? To deaths of 1000's of people.Cannabis has never ever killed anyone from its use alone.Here is your wake up call America-stop hitting the snooze button.Europe is already using cannabis instead of hard drugs for pain.Time to follow suit.Peace and One Love

    June 18, 2010 at 10:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Beej

    This is going to remain a problem until you go after the drug dealer doctors. I have been on pain killers from 1993 due to a spinal cord injury and yes I am addicted, but I have never abused my meds, they are too valuable keeping me functioning. The abuse is up to each person with a Rx and the only way to slow it down,( we will never stop it,) is to go after the Doctors who make a living dealing.

    June 18, 2010 at 10:53 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jeremy Dubin

      You are Dependent, Not Addicted. There is a Difference.
      Dr. Dubin, Addictionologist

      July 8, 2010 at 16:56 | Report abuse |
  22. dw

    How about going after te doctors who overprescribe? How about charging them with making their patients addicts? When the pills are no longer satisfying they move to heroin. First of all get rid of all of these drugs. They are highly addictive. 2nd Close the borders and eliminate the heroin production from other countries seeping into this country. Thirdly stop giving the addicts a title of disabled, stop their disability monies, food stamps, and medicaid. When they choose to clean up their act they can work like everyone else.

    June 18, 2010 at 10:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Joseph T.

    It is also reported that people who wake up from anesthizia – without doctors' realizing it – during an operation are very much folks who have been taking opiate medications right before an operation. ..And then they suffer silently while they are being operated on.

    June 18, 2010 at 10:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Niemand

    @mrnatural – Excellent point and query. I don't know why it isn't as obvious as it seems to be....

    June 18, 2010 at 10:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. reallynow

    @ mrnatural – You can't OD on marijuana. 🙂 Too bad that is not legal. Should be legalized, taxed and sold right next to cigarettes. Would fix a lot of budgetary problems in the US. Causes a lot less impairment than alcohol or legal medications. Anyone I know that has ever used it smokes and stays home like a sloth. Hmmm, no chance of drinking and driving there. But instead, doctors prescribe these terrible medicines that cause increased ER visits, impairments, are toxic to the body, cause long term damage, etc. That sounds like a brilliant plan to thin out the herds to me.

    June 18, 2010 at 10:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Fuyuko

    The backlash of this is people who need pain medication don't get theirs. It is like pulling teeth to get pain meds from doctors and I have the discipline to handle medication responsibly.

    June 18, 2010 at 10:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Pete Mason

    As a former addict of these prescription drugs, i totally agree that the availability of the drugs and the rate at which they are given out is the main problem. I have been going to a methadone clinic for just over a year now and have gotten my life back together. There is hope for addicts out there, but THEY have to take the first step to getting help and they have to WANT to change. I know i went through years and years of this behavior, but i am so grateful to have the opportunity to get myself clean. Methadone can be used as a pain-killer, but it is much more efficient in the treatment PROCESS – yes, it is a process, methadone alone does not cure you. YOU have to take action and deal with your addiction. Good luck to other addicts and those affected by their bad decisions. Help is out there.

    June 18, 2010 at 10:57 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Captain Case

      Pete Mason you are in large trouble if you dont get of the Methadone NOW!!!! I have been an avid user of everything from OC's to Heroin. As a recovering addict I tried everything including the clinic and doctor perscribed methadone. I assure you there is no greater withdrawal than methadone, not even close. Oxy-contin is Disney Land compared to methadone. I finally weaned myself dow to 55 mg's of methadone to transistion to Suboxone (my doctor wanted me to get to 30-35 mg's but I just couldn't). From my experience around the 55-45 taper is when Methadone gets tough and if you ever run out like I did twice with 5 days once and 4 days the other.... total hell, almost suicide... no joke. Uncontrolled sweating, freazing, vomiting, cramping, you name it... total hell. Then to top it off I put myself through precipitated withdrawal from not being off methadone long enough to transistion to Suboxone, even worse. I guess my point is Methadone is the devil, Suboxone is god sent. I felt nothing but a slight paranoia when I took my last dose of Suboxone at 1 milligram. I waited for the worst and nothing. I know everyone is different but I can not believe I hear people compare Sub wd's to Methadone wd's? NO COMPARISON. I was on a taper of Suboxone for 1.5 yrs which I know hear can be done in much shorter time frames. I was on opIates 8 total yrs, 5 yrs daily until I started on 100 mg's of "the wonder drug Methadone" total BS! Get off the dones now and get Suboxone, its a miracle. The only problem now is I am a repeat relapser becasue I know I can always get a couple 8 mg Subs to ween me down again. It makes detox too easy.

      July 8, 2010 at 15:10 | Report abuse |
  28. Martin

    The most common cause of death worldwide is PROPERLY prescribed and taken prescription medication, far more than the next four leading causes COMBINED.

    It's no wonder that there are many deaths through improperly taken medication and addiction.

    June 18, 2010 at 11:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Anon

    If marijuana were legal not only would we not have any govt deficits, and farmers would have a profitable crop to grow which doesn't require govt subsidies, , but people wouldn't need to abuse prescription drugs. LEGALIZE IT!!!!

    June 18, 2010 at 11:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Eve

    DOCTORS have become willing DRUG DEALERS

    June 18, 2010 at 11:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Bill from GA

    Legalize marijuana. Nobody goes to the ER for pot OD, you just nod off for a while (so I am told). Big Pharm would never allow their politicians to do that; the Repugs would say it is immoral and the Dems are too gutless to do anything.

    June 18, 2010 at 11:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. James Mcgeehan

    I have read your essay on opiate related ER visits and this article has hit close to home. My sister has had chronic back pain for thirty years and has been told since 25 years old she will never be able to live without opiates. After a series of serious hospital visits concerning opiate addiction, Deb entered a very specialized chronic pain management program out west that not only got her off opiates but at the same time lessened the pain level through holistic management and exercise. Recently however, there have been pain management individuals back home in New York State that have prescribed suboxone to counter opioid cravings. These pain management "specialists" tell me Suboxone is not an opioid, but it is my understanding that Suboxone is a highly addictive opioid. In your opinion, is Suboxone an opioid and can this drug have some of the adverse effects discussed in this article.

    Thank you for any help you may provide,

    Jim McGeehan

    June 18, 2010 at 11:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Justin

    It is so ridiculous that we can still sell all of these opiates to get people hooked on them and leads to heroin, over doses which costs us money, and death. Yet we send people who smoke marijuana to jail which costs us even more money. What a country we live in, and its all thanks to special interests in washington. We need to demand that pot be fully legalized to save our nation, it can do so much good its crazy.

    June 18, 2010 at 11:14 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jon

      when was the last time someone was actually jailed and convicted for smoking pot?

      September 14, 2010 at 22:45 | Report abuse |
  34. Andacar

    I had major surgery about a year and a half ago, and I have occasional pain flairups from dialysis. I asked for a few pain pills for occasional use. My doctor gave me a 60 pill bottle of vicodin and three refulls. It would be so easy to just take it all the time for anything, or even if I just didn't have a good day. I always thought I was "different," but I can see all too clearly how decent people go down the road of addiction to this stuf. Our society has gotten too used to having a pill for every malady. Depression, pain, nausea, the blahs, pop pop pop.

    June 18, 2010 at 11:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. tim

    Here is an idea lets stop handing opiates out like candy when you go see the Doctors. It use to be that you only got strong pain killers when you were seriously hurt. Now when you sprain and ankle instead of an ace bandage you get a prescription for 40 vicodin. It seems like Americas dependency on pill of all varieties are driving this problem in conjunction with doctors who right prescriptions more freely.

    June 18, 2010 at 11:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. RodRoderick

    This is what is wrong with the war on drugs. The government has lied about marijuana and the people know it. The unfortunate thing is the government caused what they were hoping to stop – Marijuana being a gateway drug. Young people try pot, cause everyone says it's not bad then they start thinking "gee... what else did the government Lie about". Then they start abusing truly harmful drugs. Stop the lie, legalize marijuana. If people had a choice other than alcohol or cigerattes, they would be less likely to fall prey to more harmful drugs that are readily available on the black market.

    June 18, 2010 at 11:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. David

    I am a precription pain medicince user for chonic severve back pain from a back injury I had in the 80's. This war on drugs has made it very difficult to get pain medication through the proper channels such as precriptions written by my doctor and filled by my local pharmacy. My doctor's position regarding prescribing narcotic pain medication has been compromised by the threat of arrest and losing his credentials as a physician so much that I have been left to suffer on many occassions and I also am convinced that my doctors and my relationship has been compromised greatly. KEEP the DEA out of my doctors office! WTF . I am in so much pain that I lay in bed trying to put curses on all who cause me harm. WTF Keep the DE F'N A out of my doctors and my buisness!

    June 18, 2010 at 11:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. Linda S

    However, millions of people take these drugs to help with severe pain, and DO NOT abuse them. Many addicts crush these products and snort or inject them, which is simply unthinkable to the vast majority of people.

    June 18, 2010 at 11:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. timd

    Guess whose pushing this stuff? Doctors! I went in to get some stitches recently and the doc asked if I needed anything for pain three times and every time I said no. At the end of the visit, he handed me a scrip for painkillers that I threw in the garbage. Then I had back surgery a while back and was given a scrip of percoset. I was in for a follow up visit and the nurse asked if I needed any more. I said no that I had plenty left. She looked at me shocked and said how many are you taking? I said 1 every 12 hours, just like it says. She says, "Really? Nobody goes by that, they usually just take as much as they want. " Watch your kids people – this is a preview of things to come. We are breeding a generation of dope fiends.

    June 18, 2010 at 11:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. Granite101

    With this particular aspect of the War on Drugs I doubt anyone is going to do anything about it. These addicts are often older white citizens with insurance, not young black men standing on a street corner. The government is not going to want to confront licensed doctor, pharmaceutical conglomerates and otherwise solid upstanding pillar-of-the-community taxpayers/addicts. Expect nothing to happen.

    There is a strange silver lining to all of this. I know a long-term older injection-heroin addict that has changed his ways. Rather than buying heroin on the street he has become the long-term caregiver to several old people who have pain prescriptions. They get care but have to sacrifice a few pills for the service.

    June 18, 2010 at 11:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. Peter Live!

    People get high on their opiate prescriptions? Who would have thought it?


    Unfortunately, a small subset of users of ANY psychoactive substance (and almost anything CAN be) will shift from using these compounds for their prescribed, medical use to using them for euphoric events.

    Unfortunately, our response as a society is to limit access to these wonder drugs for the 95% who use them appropriately, in an attempt to salvage the addicts or limit the harm to that abusive population. How much PAIN is undertreated in the world today as a direct result of UNDERprescribing pain meds?

    Much. Sadly, diversion and ER visits caused thereby will always be with us, and it would surely be interesting to examine the # of ER visits generated by (or contributed to) by illegal drugs, alcohol, or even sheer stupidity (idiots abound!).

    My plea here – some of us NEED these drugs to enjoy happy, productive, lives, and almost ALL of that SOME employ them responsiblity. Let's not respond with more regulation, harassment of physicians, or limiting the medical use of opiods.

    June 18, 2010 at 11:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. JP

    Chuck- I agree w/you... this country just does not get it. The taxation alone from cannibas legalization can help solve some of our debt problems and when is the last time you had an ER visit because of excess use? More importantly it will help people who truly have pain issues and cut down on the amt. of traffic incidents that "legal use" of alcohol contributes to every single day. Once again when is the last time you heard of cannibas use only contributing to a traffic incident! People drive better and safer on cannibas... period. We need to cut down on opiates that kill people instead of making drug company's rich and contributing the ER room visits. We would rather use chemicals then proven natural substances to cure pain and other ailments. Our country is more concerned w/keeping the legal & drug company communities rich. We're not concerned w/cutting down on our prison population due to minor BS drug charges (cannibas) and we keep sweeping drug company's mistakes under the carpet. We need to learn what works w/other country's and stop being so damn stubborn!

    June 18, 2010 at 11:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. Scott Strassels

    What we can't tell from data like these is how many ER visits are due to single-drug exposures. How many result from combinations of prescription drugs, or analgesics with alcohol?

    We have a big problem with drug abuse in this country. Many people have poorly-treated pain, too. Dr. Frieden is right–urgent action is needed to address both problems, but not at the expense of balance.

    June 18, 2010 at 11:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. Trust No One

    There is no difference between someone being put on maintenance drugs than there is someone given a drug with an opiate on a regular basis for chronic pain. Socially we need to step back and think long and hard about keeping those with chronic pain away from opiates. Just because there are those that abuse such drugs does not mean that there are not those in the world with a real need for opiates to deal with chronic pain.

    It is stupid and makes no sense. Pharmaceutical companies kill hundreds of thousands of people each year with the new drugs, and the amount of people they maim from these new drugs is astounding, yet we are going to deny people with chronic pain the relief they need to function normally. Big business pharmaceutical companies are allowed to commit mass murder on a grand scale but pain patients are allowed to suffer on under the excuse that they might become drug abusers. These same big business pharmaceutical companies are creating thousands of drug addicts every single day in the name of profit but pain patients are allowed to suffer.

    Do you take blood pressure meds, anti depressants, even prescription Zantacs? All are considered maintenance drugs, and to stop taking them you have to be slowly weaned away from them or you will suffer withdrawal or even more serious complications. So by definition you are a drug addict because you have to take regular doses of said drugs.

    I know someone close to me that is taking three maintenance drugs, stopping any of them could cause complications or even kill her, but she is still in an incredible amount of pain every single day. Because we have barbaric laws against treating pain patients with opiates as we would any other maintenance drug, she suffers through every day. She even admits that at times the pain has driven her to think of suicide.
    Yet she is denied the relief she could be given to feel almost normal, because we are so scared of the word addiction as it applies to opiates, yet we are so very lax about other addictive drugs fed to our people on daily basis.

    June 18, 2010 at 11:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. Solex

    I take opiates to deal with the pain caused by nerve damage in my feet and hands. These drugs are tightly controlled and after dealing with pharmacies like CVS, I finally switched to the pharmacy in the medical center where I am treated. It came to a head when CVS accused me of doctor shopping when I complained that my prescription was five days late due to the fact that they will not carry any in stock because they are afraid of getting robbed.

    I only take the prescribed dosage and would never dream of selling any of the pills (although I will admit that at 1.00 a milliagram I could make bank) and I am afraid that the problem will get so bad that I will lose my prescriptions and have to deal with my feet feeling like they are being dipped in battery acid.

    Not all people who take C2 meds are drug addicts and criminals. For me, they allow me to have a basic quality of life and keep working. Without them I could not.

    Doctors do their best to ensure that people are not trying to con their way into these drugs. Doctors cannot see pain on an x-ray (besides the obvious things like broken bones and such). They do need to be careful to make sure that patients do not develop dependency after the need for the drugs go away.

    June 18, 2010 at 11:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. WBinNT

    I've never seen a case of marijuana overdose/toxicity in the ER. You can make the argument against driving while using marijuana, but that would be covered under DUI/DWI laws.

    June 18, 2010 at 11:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. Niemand

    @Fuyuko – You are absolutely right, and these types of reports just fan the flames. It seems that stories like this are in the news with suspicious regularity, every several weeks or so. The statistics are always different, as they are if you attempt to verify them.
    My opinion is that the DEA and related (government) organizations perpetually need to add more crises to their portfolio, so that their budgets will continue to grow and their jackbooted dominance will increase. Pursuit and arrest are big business for these people, and confiscation of personal property is a bonus. Never mind the real damage to the lives that they ravage.
    They aren't part of the solution, they're part of the problem.

    June 18, 2010 at 11:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. Marc Bush

    I work in an ER and I would say the majority of the patients we see have at least one opiate listed as a current medication or is requested by the patient. There is a whole underground economy here using hydrocodone as a form of currency.

    June 18, 2010 at 11:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. Jimii

    SoO, we spend fortunes – I mean whole industries around trying to prevent people from growing, smoking, and selling pot. The Feds would NEVER do it, but why not make it legal like booze and if people abuse they get in trouble, like drinking & driving. People are going to smoke dope anyway – and we have created a gigantic criminal $ industry & prevention.

    When it comes to prescription drugs, you will have some that abuse and most that need and don't. These opiate drugs are the big new thing in the news – yes, we should moderate but how about taking some individual responsibility too, just like with drink and grass?
    Many people need these meds and don't escalate to eating handfuls a day. My biggest point though is legailze grass and suddenly a billion dollar industry and the policing of it would be gone. And I DO NOT SMOKE!

    June 18, 2010 at 11:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. CommonSense2

    People are unhappy so they chose to escape. This unhappiness is driven by an unchecked justice system that violates people's rights as it steals their money. Family court destroys parental bonds and finances while rewarding lawyers that stall due process for profits. In the end, both parents and the kid(s) lose... while the lawyers walk away with money.

    Want to cure society's ills? Vote leader, not lawyer to change the "system" from dishonorable con game to justice system. That is my opinion.

    June 18, 2010 at 11:50 | Report abuse | Reply
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