Prescription painkiller overdoses cause 16,000 deaths in U.S. each year, new study shows

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by Jim Orr

In 2012, health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for painkillers, enough for every adult in the United States to have a bottle of pills, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2010, enough prescription painkillers were sold to medicate every adult in the country with the typical dose of 5 milligrams of hydrocodone every four hours for a month, according to the CDC. On average, 46 people die from prescription drug overdoses each day.

Abuse of prescription opioids, such as the powerful painkiller OxyContin, fueled a surge in overdose deaths, which quadrupled from 4,030 deaths in 1999 to 16,917 deaths in 2011, according mortality data collected by the CDC. In 2012, the latest year available, deaths from prescription painkillers “dropped” from 2011’s record high to 16,007, according to the CDC.

In Kentucky, the drug company Purdue faces a lawsuit filed by the State of Kentucky regarding OxyContin. The lawsuit alleges that the company trained its sales force to falsely portray OxyContin as difficult to abuse, even though its own study found a drug abuser could extract most of the active ingredient from a tablet by crushing it. Kentucky alleges that sales representatives misled doctors and others into believing that OxyContin didn’t produce a “buzz” and was less addictive than shorter-acting drugs and that the company concealed information about the dangers of OxyContin. The City of Chicago and some California counties have also brought lawsuits against manufacturers of narcotic painkillers in which they accuse the drug companies behind these drugs of engaging in deceptive marketing strategies that downplay addiction and overdose risks.

The FDA has found it necessary to order stronger warning labels for long-acting opioid painkillers in response to the growing number of fatal overdoses that have occurred in recent years with these drugs. New painkiller warnings were ordered to restrict how and to whom these powerful drugs can be prescribed in the hopes of reducing the number of deaths and other complications caused by opioids.

A recent study found that a shocking 40% of all narcotic painkiller prescriptions in the USA from 2011-2012 were written by only 5% of prescribers. The study found that internal medicine and family practice doctors are among the specialties with the highest prevalence of “high prescribers.” A concern is that specialists in internal medicine and family practice may not have all the knowledge and experience they need about powerful opioids.

Help for Victims of Opioid Painkiller Overdoses

The marketing practices of drug companies who manufacture opioid painkillers have had a disastrous effect on the lives of patients who have suffered addictions or overdoses because of these drugs. Thousands of patients are killed each year because of an opioid overdose, making deaths from painkiller medications one of the leading causes of the rise in prescription drugs deaths in the U.S. over recent years.

Doctors who prescribe these medications indiscriminately to their patients have also played a role in the epidemic of prescription painkiller overdoses in this country. When doctors or hospitals give opioid medications to their patients without exercising proper care, they are putting the health—and even the lives—of their patients in jeopardy. Patients who are prescribed narcotic painkillers that are stronger than what is needed to treat their symptoms, or who are prescribed more pills than necessary, face a greater risk of suffering an accidental overdose or becoming addicted to these medications.

Patients who are the victims of addiction or overdose from opioid painkillers may be eligible to file a lawsuit against the drug’s manufacturer, as well as the doctor or hospital who prescribed the medication. The first step in filing a lawsuit is to secure the help of an experienced attorney who can guide you through your case.

The lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson have represented numerous individuals who have been the victim of complications caused by opioid painkiller prescriptions. Our law firm has handled more cases involving the fentanyl pain patch—a powerful opioid painkiller that is about 80-100 times more powerful than morphine—than all other law firms in the country combined.

For more information about filing an opioid painkiller lawsuit and to learn if you may be eligible to file a case, contact the lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson by calling toll-free at 1-877-446-9001, or by following the link to our free case evaluation form located on this website.