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National Safety Council: Opioid prescription painkillers have hidden, deadly side effects

Risk of death, unintentional injury is particularly high for elderly adults taking opioid painkillers

Itasca, IL, Feb. 26, 2015 – Today the National Safety Council released a white paper, The psychological and physical side effects of pain medications, debunking the belief that opioid painkillers, such as Vicodin and Oxycontin, are safer options than over-the-counter pain relievers.

“More Americans overdose on prescription painkillers than on heroin and cocaine combined,” said Deborah A.P. Hersman, president and CEO of NSC. “Yet, these medications are marketed as the Cadillac option for treating pain. If doctors and their patients understand the risks and side effects, they can discuss safer, more effective options. Without an honest dialogue, we’ll continue to see a cycle of addiction and overdose that has made opioid painkiller use a public health crisis.”

Some of the hidden side effects of opioid painkillers include rapidly developing addiction, withdrawal, constipation, permanent changes to brain chemistry, nausea, respiratory depression, increased sensitivity to pain, driving impairment and decreased sex drive. Opioid painkillers account for about $55.6 billion in societal costs each year, including worker’s compensation, employee productivity, patient care and crime.

Doctors often prescribe opioid painkillers to elderly adults because they are widely believed to be easier on their stomachs than over-the-counter pain relievers. In reality, research shows elderly adults taking opioid painkillers have an equal risk of gastrointestinal bleeding as those taking over-the-counterdrugs.

A full copy of the white paper can be downloaded at safety.nsc.org/sideeffects.

About the National Safety Council

Founded in 1913 and chartered by Congress, the National Safety Council, nsc.org, is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to save lives by preventing injuries and deaths at work, in homes and communities, and on the road through leadership, research, education and advocacy. NSC advances this mission by partnering with businesses, government agencies, elected officials and the public in areas where we can make the most impact – distracted driving, teen driving, workplace safety, prescription drug overdoses and Safe Communities.

Contact: Kathy Lane
NSC Communications Director
(630) 775-2307
kathy.lane@nsc.org

​Contact the Media Team

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The National Safety Council eliminates preventable deaths at work, in homes and communities, and on the road through leadership, research, education and advocacy.

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