Recent studies show that those who do visit a doctor to treat their chronic pain are being prescribed more and more opioids for pain therapy. As a result, the increase in strong prescription painkillers among the American public may be fueling the current opioid drug epidemic plaguing the United States.
A survey completed at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health reveals that many patients save their leftover prescription opioid pills to abuse them at a later time.
In total, 60.6% of participants report having extra pills, and 61.3% admit to keeping their leftovers for future use rather than disposing of them.
The results bring up many questions about the safety of prescribing opioids.
“These painkillers are much riskier than has been understood and the volume of prescribing and use has contributed to an opioid epidemic in this country,” Alene Kennedy-Hendricks, Ph.D. and assistant scientist in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Bloomberg School, commented in a press release.
The researchers also found out that about half of survey participants did not receive adequate information on how to safely store their medications. They were also not warned about the potential health hazards that could come if young children accidentally ingested them or how adults could use them to get high.
Fewer than 10% of the survey’s respondents kept their medications in a locked, secure space.
This poses a significant risk to children, in particular, as 20% of survey participants are using their leftover medication to self-medicate themselves and the people around them. Prolonged use of these medications can turn to addiction, increasing both the usage and availability of a cheaper version of heroin.
Researchers are trying to determine why so many patients have extra medication and are thinking of ways to monitor the doctors who prescribe these pills.
Additionally, there has been a widespread concern over the effectiveness of these pills. A study published in the American Medical Association’s journal of internal medicine, JAMA Internal Medicine, reported that more than half of participants did not experience adequate treatment efficacy from their prescription opioids.
The study included 7,925 participants, and researchers divided them into multiple different studies, 13 of which evaluated the short-term effects of opioid analgesics on chronic low back pain.
As much as 80% of the population will suffer from back pain at some point, according to medical experts. As many as 40% of people who suffer from long-term low back pain do not choose to see a doctor or a physical therapist.
Researchers found out that prescription opioids for those who do seek medical treatment are moderately effective for short-term pain management, but ineffective for long-term use.
This leads researchers to ask why doctors are prescribing these prescriptions if they are ineffective and lead to more serious health risks.
The United States is no stranger to opioid misuse. Over the past decade, there has been a dramatic increase in the amount of prescription pain killer addiction related deaths. Drug overdoses — the majority of which involve opioids — were the number one cause of death in 2014 for those between the ages of 25 and 64, surpassing all car crashes for this age group.