Prescriptions Continue After Painkiller ODs
Often, prescribing doctors don't even know their patients have overdosed, researchers say
By Steven Reinberg
MONDAY, Dec. 28, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Even as overdoses from narcotic prescription painkiller reach record levels in the United States, a new report finds that most people who survive such events continue to be prescribed the drugs by their doctors.
The new study found that this happened in more than 90 percent of cases, and patients who continued on drugs like OxyContin, Vicodin and Percocet after an overdose had twice the odds of overdosing again within the next two years.
"Seventy percent of patients who overdosed were getting their drugs from the same doctor who prescribed the narcotic before the overdose," noted lead researcher Dr. Marc Larochelle, an assistant professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine.
In many cases, doctors who continued to prescribe the narcotics didn't even know that their patients had suffered an overdose. "This signals a problem with the health system, but I don't think it necessarily fingers doctors as being bad doctors," he said.
The problem, he said, is that emergency department records rarely find their way to a patient's doctor. That's because the record of an overdose is not automatically sent to the doctor who prescribed the drug, Larochelle said.
And patients, especially those addicted to these drugs, often don't tell their doctor about winding up in the ER after an overdose.
For the study, Larochelle and colleagues used a large insurance claims database to collect information on nearly 3,000 people who overdosed on narcotic painkillers over 12 years. The report was published Dec. 28 in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
So what's the solution? Larochelle believes that prescribing physicians first need to curb how often they write these prescriptions.
"There is a direct correlation that the more narcotics you put in the population, the more overdoses you are going to have," he said.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drug overdoses are at epidemic levels, as are the rates of related overdose deaths.
A CDC report released earlier this month found that drug overdose deaths reached record highs in 2014, fueled largely by the abuse of narcotic painkillers and heroin -- a drug addicts often turn to when their prescriptions are cut off.