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Kiichiro Sato/AP

“Doctor Shopping” Adds to Rise in Painkiller Deaths

March 18, 2009 01:00 PM
by Haley A. Lovett
The United States has seen an increase in both nonmedical use of painkillers and prescription drug-related deaths; researchers blame "doctor shopping" and ignorance.

“Doctor Shopping,” Nonmedical Use, Ignorance Blamed for Painkiller Deaths

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A recent study relased by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that 5.2 million people reported uising prescription painkillers for nonmedical purposes in the past month.

Nonmedical use increased by .5 percent from 2002 to 2007, the study found, with use among males 12 and older growing more significantly than for females.

West Virginia had the nation's largest increase in unintentional prescription drug overdose with a 550 percent increase from 1999 to 2004. According to MSNBC, the nationwide number of accidental drug poisoning deaths rose 68 percent. Researchers studying the deaths from those overdoses found that more than half of the people who died did not have legal prescriptions for the drugs, and more than 20 percent had engaged in "doctor shopping" and had 5 or more different physicians prescribing them medications over the last year of their life.

Many doctors say that for the unintentional overdose deaths, the real cause is ignorance. MSNBC reported that some doctors see patients who are taking 10–12 different medications; "When you're on that many medications that have a depressant effect," Dr. Laurence M. Westrich told MSNBC, "you might forget what you've taken."

Recently, the FDA decided to put certain narcotics under additional testing to ensure that the benefits outweigh the risks. Some of these drugs may also be harder for consumers to come by.

Related Stories: Teens trying painkillers, prescription drug deaths on rise

The United States has seen a significant rise over the last 20 years in the number of deaths from at-home prescription drug overdoses. The rise in deaths is an increase of about 700 percent overall.

The majority of victims are working-aged people with prescriptions, and the increase in death has gone hand-in-hand with an increase in the number of prescriptions for these types of medication over the past 20 years.

A study by the Department of Health and Human Services found that for teens trying drugs for the first time, prescription drugs are the second most popular choice, with marijuana being the first.

Reference: Medication and Substance Abuse

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