Our Painkiller Epidemic

Physicians Are Prescribing Too Many Painkillers


The over-prescription of painkillers and other potentially hazardous drugs may be contributing to a rise in lethal drug overdoses, according to new research by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The drugs, often prescribed for chronic pain, include amphetamines such as Adderall; opioids like oxycodone; and benzodiazepines like Valium and Xanax and Valium

To many people, the word “drugs” conveys illegal substances like cocaine and heroin, but the researchers cautioned that legal drugs are an even bigger problem. “More people in the U.S. die from a drug overdose than they do from motor vehicle accidents, and more of those deaths are caused by prescription opioids than those attributable to cocaine and heroin combined,” said G. Caleb Alexander, MD, MS, associate professor of Epidemiology at the Bloomberg School and co-director of the new Johns Hopkins Center for Drug Safety and Effectiveness. 

Although there are checks on the overuse of drugs like limits on the number of prescriptions an insurer will cover, and a rule that such drugs can be prescribed by just one physician, the Hopkins researchers said that isn’t enough. Unless there is a change in physicians’ overall prescribing practices, they said, the pattern will remain.

Another researcher, Daniel Webster, ScD, MPH, professor of Health Policy and Management at the Bloomberg School, said that in a statement that the routine prescription of these drugs prevents physicians from looking for other ways to relieve patients’ pain. “It also increases the odds these drugs will be misused or diverted from the legal to the illegal market, leading to more addiction and death.” The overview was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association
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