Patients Often Prescribed, Share Extra Painkillers
By Alan Mozes
MONDAY, June 13, 2016 (HealthDay News) — More than half the patients prescribed opioid painkillers in a recent U.S. study received more than they needed. And many shared the drugs or failed to store them securely, a new survey indicates.
The study of more than 1,000 adults prescribed painkillers like OxyContin or Vicodin shows how some Americans gain illicit access to addictive pain medications. These patterns are contributing to the nation’s epidemic of prescription painkiller abuse and overdose deaths, the researchers said.
More than one in five patients admitted “they have shared an opioid medication with another person, primarily to help that other person manage pain,” said study lead author Alene Kennedy-Hendricks. She is an assistant scientist in the department of health policy and management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, in Baltimore.
Moreover, more than 60 percent of those with leftover opioids said they hung on to their drugs for “future use.”
And nearly half who had recently been prescribed opioids said they didn’t remember being told about safe opioid storage to keep them out of someone else’s hands.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned doctors about the dangers of overprescribing painkillers because of the risk of addiction. Reliance on painkillers also raises the odds for heroin use, a cheaper drug with similar opioid effects, the agency says. According to the CDC, deaths from prescription opioids more than tripled in the United States between 1999 and 2014.
For the study, researchers in 2015 surveyed 1,055 adults who had been prescribed opioids in the previous year. Nearly 47 percent were taking opioids at the time of the survey. All were asked about their own opioid use, their opioid storage habits, and whether they gave their medication to others.
Nearly six in 10 said they either had excess pain medication or expected to have leftovers, the researchers found.
Of those who recalled receiving storage information, only one-third said those instructions came directly from their doctor or nurse. Drug packaging or a pharmacist were the source of this advice in roughly 45 percent of cases.