N24 — June 2013 — Pain Medication Safety
Intro: Accidental overdose from prescription pain medication is becoming more and more common. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that overdose deaths have risen 300-percent since 1999. Doctors at Mayo Clinic want to reverse this trend. The key, they say, is education.
Pain medication. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports nearly 15-thousand people in the U.S. die from accidental overdoses of prescription pain medication every year.
"If you compare the number of unintentional overdoses because of medications, it almost now equals the number of people that die in motor vehicle accidents in a year.
Mayo Clinic Dr. Christopher Wittich says narcotics, such as hydrocodone, codeine and morphine can be very effective at pain control, but if they're used too often or for too long, they can become addicting. And if they're used improperly, say, for fun, or at too high a dose they can be deadly.
"If you took too much of the medication, for example, more often than it was prescribed or in a bigger dose than was prescribed, it could make you very, very sleepy. It can make it so that you don't breathe as well so decreases your respiratory drive and you can — you basically die from this drowsiness and stopping breathing."
Narcotics can also be dangerous if used in combination with other medications, such as those for depression, anxiety and sleeping pills. That's because they can enhance the effect on the respiratory system. Plus some combinations can be bad for your liver.
"Physicians need to be judicious about not giving any more pain medication than they think would be appropriate and at the smallest dose possible."
He says patients should take responsibility too. Dr. Wittich recommends these things: share the complete list of medications with your doctor, get medication from one pharmacy only, throw away unused medication — pharmacies can let you know how to do that, and never share unused medication with others. Plus, if you're in the hospital, make sure to go over medications with staff before you go home.
"If a patient's in the hospital, new medications are started, old medications are discontinued, so because of all these changes that happen, it's a prime time for errors to happen."
Again, pain medication is effective and essential for those who need it. Dr. Wittich says taking the medication properly can help ensure accidental overdoses don't happen.
For Mayo Clinic News Network, I'm Vivien Williams.
Dr. Wittich says middle aged men are the most susceptible to accidental overdose. He encourages everyone who takes prescription pain medications to be aware of the risks so they can avoid potential problems.
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