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The Prescription Drug Abuse Epidemic

Tuesday, Mar 13, 2018
Opioid Abuse

When painkillers kill people

In 2016, 46 people in the United States died every day from an overdose of prescription painkillers, and many more became addicted, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Opioids, also called narcotics, are a group of drugs prescribed for pain relief. They include:

  • Natural opioids like opium, morphine and codeine
  • Semi-synthetic opioids like heroin, Hydrocodone (Vicodin), Oxydodone (OxyContin and Percocet)
  • Synthetic opioids like Fentanyl, methadone and hydromorphone (Delaudid)

The abuse of and addiction to opioids like heroin and prescription painkillers is an epidemic in the U.S. and Pennsylvania. On January 10, 2018, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf declared the heroin and opioid epidemic a statewide disaster emergency. The declaration is the first-of-its-kind for a public health emergency in the state.

The painkiller-heroin connection

Many heroin users started with prescription drug abuse. Many people who abuse prescription medications are getting them from friends, family and acquaintances. In schools, some teens share prescription drugs, selling their own pills or pills stolen from classmates.

Heroin abuse, like prescription opioid abuse, is dangerous because the drug is highly addictive and because there is high risk for overdosing. In the case of heroin, this danger is made worse by the lack of control over how pure the drug is and the possibility there are other powerful drugs like fentanyl mixed in.

Overdose deaths on the rise

The nation is experiencing an epidemic of drug overdose deaths. Opioids—prescription and illicit—are the main driver of drug overdose deaths. Opioid overdose deaths were five times higher in 2016 than 1999, according to the CDC. Opioids (including prescription opioids, heroin and fentanyl) killed more than 42,000 people in the U.S. in 2016, more than any year on record.

In 2016, 4,642 drug-related overdose deaths were reported by Pennsylvania coroners and medical examiners, an increase of 37 percent from 2015. [1]

What is Doylestown Health doing?

Doylestown Health instituted a "Narcotic-Responsible Hospital" policy several years ago to manage the prescribing of narcotics in the Emergency Department.

The program was developed to create consistency in prescribing practices while keeping providers mindful of prescription quantities upon discharge. Providers continue to effectively address a patient’s pain, but also consider non-narcotic alternatives to treat pain.

What can parents do?

  • Educate yourself – Visit the website for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Talk to your kids about the risks of prescription medicine abuse.
  • Safeguard your medicine. Keep prescription medicine in a secure place, count and monitor the number of pills you have and lock them up — and ask your friends and family members to do the same. Learn more about medication disposal box locations in Bucks County.
  • Get help. The Bucks County Drug & Alcohol Commission has information about where to get help in Bucks County, and there are multiple resources in Pennsylvania.
  • If you know someone who has a problem with prescription medicine or heroin abuse, learn about local education and recovery resources led by the Council of Southeast Pennsylvania. The Doylestown-based nonprofit offers prevention, consultation, advocacy and recovery support services.

[1] U.S. Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration and the University of Pittsburgh

About Doylestown Health

Doylestown Health is a comprehensive system of inpatient, outpatient and community services connected to meet the health and wellness needs of all members of the community. Our independent and nonprofit system is dedicated to healthcare excellence from childbirth to end-of-life care.

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