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Painkillers at Root of Prescription Drug Overdose Epidemic

  • Every day, 44 people die from opioid pain medications. Every year, 43,000 die from a drug overdose, mostly from prescription pain medications.

    Opioids are being overprescribed. And it is not children reaching in medicine cabinets who have made drug poisoning the #1 cause of unintentional death in the United States. Adults have been prescribed opioids by doctors and subsequently become addicted or move from pills to heroin.

    Perhaps even more alarming: 70% of people who have abused prescription painkillers reported getting them from friends or relatives. Most people don't know that sharing opioids is a felony.


    'Painkillers Don't Kill Pain; They Kill People'


    People who take opioid painkillers for too long and in doses too large are more at risk of addiction and more likely to die of drug poisoning. The numbers are staggering. In a 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health report, the Substance Abuse and Medical Health Services Administration says there are 4.3 million current nonmedical users of painkillers. Nearly 2 million people have painkiller substance use disorders.

    "Painkillers don't kill pain. They kill people," says  Dr. Don Teater, National Safety Council medical advisor.

    People think taking opioids is the best way to treat pain. But the reality is other non-addictive medicines are just as effective, including many over-the-counter drugs such as ibuprofen or naproxen.


    Learn How to Help Keep Loved Ones Alive


    National Safety Council is here to provide answers for families, resources for employers and prescribers, and information to help keep you safe at home and in your community:


    Where do Opioids Come From and What is the Cost?


    • Like heroin, opioid painkillers come from the poppy plant; opioids contain morphine and codeine
    • In 2010, more than 400,000 emergency room visits were made related to prescription painkillers
    • In 2006, the estimated total cost in the United States of nonmedical use of prescription opioids was $53.4 billion, of which $42 billion (79%) was attributable to lost productivity
    • Four out of five new heroin users started by misusing prescription painkillers
    • Research indicates 4% to 6% of prescription painkiller abusers will transition to heroin use
  • Face of the Prescription Drug Abuse Epidemic

    Meet survivors who turned their lives around, and find videos and resources to mobilize your community in this free NSC Prescription Drug Community Action Kit.

    Get the Kit

Prescription Painkiller Abuse: The Worst Drug Epidemic

America’s most fatally abused drug is legal and sitting in the medicine cabinet. Understand the risks and how to prevent deaths and injuries associated with prescription drug abuse.

Make Your Workplace Opioid Free

Employee use of prescription painkillers threatens employees' safety and your bottom line.

Download the Kit
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  • Get the Latest Information on Opioids

    Receive email updates on preventing prescription drug misuse and overdose. Learn how you can join this initiative to save lives.

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