Several years ago, I wrote a blog about the DEADLIEST DRUGS in the US. It resulted from a question one of my readers had asked. This reader, an author, was contemplating what lethal chemical or sinister designer drug to use in one of his upcoming murder mysteries.
My initial thoughts were that the deadliest drugs in this country included the popular illegal ones—heroin, cocaine or methamphetamine—or some combination of those addictive drugs. It seemed an easy answer; but, as my readers know, I never make statements about drugs without first doing the research.
What I found astonished me! The deadliest drugs in the US—even several years ago—were prescription narcotic painkillers. In fact, I discovered that there was a three-fold increase in deaths from narcotic (opioid) prescription drugs in the past decade, even surpassing the psycho-pharmaceuticals often obtained illegally on the street.
More recently, studies have shown that opioid medications are prescribed by physicians far too often when other less addictive, and potentially less lethal, drugs might relieve a patient’s pain as effectively. In the decade between 2001 and 2010, emergency room-generated prescriptions for opioids rose nearly 50%.
The current epidemic of opiate addiction has left millions of Americans addicted to narcotic painkillers. It should be noted that not everyone who is prescribed narcotic pain medication will become addicted.
However, a report released in July by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine found that about eight to ten percent of patients will develop an addiction to a prescribed opiate, a so-called “opiate use disorder” and approximately 15% to 25% engage in problematic behaviors that suggest a dependence on the prescribed opiate drug. These patients often are still taking narcotic pain relievers a year later than expected.
This past July, the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis published their findings and more recently declared opiate addiction as a “national emergency” with statistics that indicate almost 150 people die each day from a prescription opiate overdose.
An interesting study caught my eye the other day as I scanned my online news reports. It was conducted at the Montefiore Medical Center’s Emergency Department in the Bronx, New York. The study subjects were ER patients with bone fractures, sprained ankles, dislocated shoulders, traumas to the knee, and the like. From personal experience, I know that bone pain can be some of the worst to endure.
In this study, patients with bone injuries were evenly assigned into one of four groups: those receiving a non-narcotic combination of acetaminophen and ibuprofen (Tylenol and Advil or Motrin, respectively, are brand names), those receiving Percocet (a drug containing the narcotic oxycodone), others receiving Vicodin (the narcotic hydrocodone), and some receiving Tylenol #3 (a codeine/acetaminophen combination).
The results indicated that the over-the-counter pain cocktail of Tylenol (acetaminophen) and Advil (ibuprofen) worked as well, if not better, than the narcotic alternatives. On a 10-point pain scale with 10 being the worst pain possible, patients receiving the non-narcotic combo rated their pain two hours after dosing as a 4.3 on the scale, while the other three groups of narcotic-dosed patients rated their pain reduction as 4.4, 3.5, and 3.9, respectively—a statistically insignificant difference.
This study suggests that there are much safer alternatives to narcotic prescription prescribing practices. This simple study comparison in a real-world setting could not only help shape pain relief practices profoundly, but also shape the future direction of narcotic addiction statistics and possibly reduce the overall lethal overdoses from narcotic pain relievers in the United States.
Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!