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Pain Management Health Center

Prescribed Opioids: Overdoses Not Uncommon

Higher Doses Linked to Higher Risk, Study Finds
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7 Nonfatal Overdoses for Every Drug Death

The analysis also found that:

  • Opioid overdoses occurred at similar rates across all age groups. 
  • The estimated annual overdose rates were 0.2%, 0.7%, and 1.8% among patients receiving less than 20 milligrams a day, 50 to 99 milligrams a day, and 100 or more milligrams a day, respectively, of opioids. 
  • Suicide attempts and drug abuse were cited as contributing to overdose in only a minority of cases. 
  • More than seven nonfatal overdoses occurred for every fatal overdose among the study participants.

The study was funded by the National Institute of Drug Abuse.

“Most of the attention has been on fatal overdoses because that is the data we have had,” senior investigator Michael Von Korff, ScD, of the Group Health Research Institute, tells WebMD. “But this study makes it clear that serious non-fatal overdoses are not uncommon among these patients.”

The message to physicians who prescribe drugs like OxyContin, Vicodin, and methadone for chronic pain is clear, Von Korff says.

“If a patient is using opioids long term, these drugs should be prescribed by a single physician who is aware of all the drugs the patient is taking,” he says.

The message to patients is that they should never take more of a prescription opioid for pain than is prescribed.

“The recent (opioid-related) mortality data from CDC has been sobering,” he says. “This study confirms that we need to be concerned about the full spectrum of patients taking these drugs and not just those struggling with substance abuse.”

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