Use of Stronger Painkillers on the Rise: Study

Row of pill bottles 2-25-15

The percentage of Americans who take painkillers stronger than morphine is on the rise, according to a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These drugs include oxycodone, hydromorphone, fentanyl and methadone.

The study found 37 percent of people who used a prescription narcotic painkiller in 2011-2012 used a drug stronger than morphine, compared with 17 percent in 1999, USA Today reports.

An estimated seven percent of adults use a narcotic painkiller, according to the CDC. Women are more likely than men to use opioid painkillers. The findings indicate that the use of opioid analgesics among U.S. adults has more than doubled since 1988–1994, when 3.4 percent used opioid painkillers, the CDC noted.

Non-Hispanic white adults were more likely than Hispanic adults to use the drugs, the study found. There was no significant difference in use between non-Hispanic white adults and non-Hispanic black adults.

The CDC noted that opioid dependence and opioid-related deaths are a growing public health problems. Opioid painkiller sales quadrupled from 1999 to 2010. From 1999 to 2012, opioid-related deaths more than tripled.

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    DR. E. Don Nelson

    February 25, 2015 at 1:29 PM

    The CDC would fail pharmacology. In the course we carefully explain the difference between EFFICACY AND POTENCY. Short course: There IS no more effective opioid analgesic than morphine. The Relative Potency really does not matter to anyone who understands EFFICACY AND POTENCY.

    But, without hype what would we do for headlines ?

    Dr. E. Don Nelson
    Professor Clinical Pharmacology
    Univ. Cincinnati College of Medicine

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    Billy, RPh, CACII

    February 25, 2015 at 1:12 PM

    I am unsure what such a dramatic headline is meant to prove. I suppose those who did this “study” used some sort of “morphine equivalent dose” table to identify those that are “weaker”, “stronger” or “equal” to morphine. One problem with this is that there are many such tables and none are very accurate. This is because every individual is different along with their perception of pain and the cause of the pain. Another issue specific to morphine is that only about 25% of an oral dose is absorbed, so this tends to skew the equivalency tables. Describing a medicine as stronger or weaker means that it takes either less or more of the drug to achieve the same amount of pain relief. It does not imply that the medicine is more effective or has any special powers. Different meds are used because we all respond differently to chemicals. What may work fine for one may not work at all for another. This seems like just one more attempt to “scare” those who prescribe opioids for painful conditions into using sub potent meds to treat their patients.

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