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High Doses of Opioids Linked to Accidental Overdose

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A new study finds higher doses of opioids such as OxyContin and Vicodin are associated with increased risk of death by accidental overdose from these powerful painkillers. Reuters reports that the findings add to the debate over how to balance treating patients’ severe pain with the potential for misuse of the drugs.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, looked at patients treated through the Veterans Health Administration between 2004 and 2008, and found that out of 1.8 million people treated with opioids, there were 750 deaths from accidental overdoses. The researchers found that patients with prescriptions for higher doses were more likely to accidentally overdose.

Patients with a prescription for 100 milligrams per day or higher of opioids were between six and eight times more likely to overdose than those with a prescription for between 1 and 20 milligrams per day. Accidental overdoses were also more likely among patients with substance abuse problems or mental illness, Reuters reported.

5 Responses to this article

  1. Avatar of toni acock
    toni acock / April 22, 2011 at 1:34 pm

    It also doesn’t begin to take into account the patients who would suffer lack of sleep, mobility issues and the ability to heal better and faster if the prescription was removed. Any and all of these issues can result in slow death. Some not so slow deaths too. Sleep cannot come if you are in too much pain. Healing cannot come if you do not sleep. Since these medicines are known and the so called sleeping aids are not….they are actually safer.
    I agree with PW, There needs to be a real study about his issue. So where to we get the funding?

  2. Avatar of Jacki
    Jacki / April 20, 2011 at 3:37 pm

    .04% death rate is a the people who were prescribed these pills. They do not tell you that over 19000 young adults were not prescribed these pills but overdosed on them in 2009

  3. Avatar of PWKaplan
    PWKaplan / April 6, 2011 at 4:11 pm

    Opioids are powerful drugs whose use has consequences. But many people accept the risk because they judge their severe chronic pain is worse than death. Given the lack of controls in this study, a 0.04% death rate is actually very low. Publishing this type of study on this type of site implicitly makes the argument that opiates are being prescribed or used irresponsibly, and that tighter controls are needed to save those in chronic pain from themselves. That’s the last thing we need–and Ms. Vimont should have given her article more context. We need less panic and more facts.

  4. Fred C / April 6, 2011 at 1:51 pm

    Somebody actually paid for this study? This is like “discovering” that people who eat five times as much food are more likely to get fat. I would like to see you include the cost and funding sources for these studies in your articles. Did my tax dollars go to making this “discovery?”

  5. Avatar of Stewart B. Leavitt, MA, PhD
    Stewart B. Leavitt, MA, PhD / April 6, 2011 at 1:42 pm

    This study was a ‘data-mining’ exercise of every limited quality and validity. The authors themselves concede that the overall risk of overdose (0.04%) and the absolute risk increases for significant associations (ranging from 0.072% to 0.45%) were “small.” Furthermore, they admit that the risk of opioid overdose was low and a “rare” occurrence. So, perhaps, this is another case of making a mountain out of a statistical molehill?

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