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| Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

The director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (CDC), is critical of the way doctors are prescribing prescription painkillers to patients. Dr. Tom Friedan says that physicians are relying on these powerful drugs to treat chronic pain when physical therapy, exercise and other remedies would be safer and, in many cases, more effective.

He said that that narcotics such as OxyContin, Vicodin and similar medications are being prescribed too soon and too much, putting patients at risk for addiction and overdose.

Friedan said that these powerful medications should only be given to patients suffering in limited medical situations, such as severe cancer pain. Too often, they are prescribed for conditions such as toothaches and arthritis. But “prescribing an opiate may be condemning a patient to lifelong addiction and life-threatening complications,” he added.

In 2011, the CDC declared the problem of drug overdoses as a national epidemic.

As this epidemic of prescription drug addiction and overdoses continues to grow, law enforcement is also looking at the significant role the medical industry is playing in this growth.  A Los Angeles Times analysis of more than 3,700 overdose deaths in Southern California from 2006 through 2011 found that nearly half involved at least one drug prescribed by a doctor.

Drug overdoses as cause of death continues to worsen. According to the CDS, in 2009, more people died by drug overdoses than car accidents.

And the increase for woman is even more disturbing. In 2010, 15,300 women died from drug overdoses. There was a significant increase among middle-age women, who, according to past research, are more likely to suffer from chronic pain and prescribed painkillers by their doctors.

Friedan advised doctors to look closely at risks of addiction and overdoses against the severity of their patients’ pain. And he stressed that doctors must also check prescription databases to ensure that their patients are not what he referred to as “doctor shoppers” – patients who are already addicted to painkillers but have been shut off by previous physicians.

Many states have either introduced or passed laws that require more oversight by physicians when dispensing narcotics to patients. Friedan pointed to the state of Washington as a good example. Painkiller prescribing guidelines adopted there in 2007 have shown a reduction in the number of overdose deaths instead of a decrease the rest of the country sees.

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