Overdose deaths caused by opioid pain relievers such as oxycodone and hydrocodone increased by 9% in 2014, with 813 more fatalities than 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These figures also cap a 15-year increase in deaths from prescription opioid pain reliever overdoses as a result of misuse and abuse, the CDC reports.
While opioid prescriptions from dentists dropped by 5.7% from 2007 to 2012, such prescriptions in healthcare overall have quadrupled since 1999. The CDC notes that misuse and abuse of these prescriptions not only are dangerous in and of themselves, they also represent the strongest risk factor for heroin initiation and abuse. This is especially true for patients who became dependent upon or abused prescription opioids in the previous year.
“The opioid epidemic is devastating American families and communities,” said Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, director of the CDC. “To curb these trends and save lives, we must help prevent addiction and provide support and treatment to those who suffer from opioid use disorders.”
To prevent overdose deaths, the CDC stresses the need to limit the initiation into opioid misuse and addiction. Providing healthcare professionals with additional tools and information, including safer guidelines for prescribing these drugs, can help them make more informed prescription decisions, the CDC says.
Next, the CDC believes that access to evidence-based substance use disorder treatment including medication-assisted treatment for people with opioid-use disorder should be expanded. Access to and the use of naloxone, which can reverse opioid overdose symptoms and save lives, also should be expanded. Finally, the CDC recommends better coordination between state and local public health agencies, medical examiners and coroners, and law enforcement to improve detection and response to overdose outbreaks.