Painkiller Risks

Few Understand Risks of Prescription Painkiller Addiction

  • The most fatally abused drugs are legal and sitting in the medicine cabinet: opioid pain relievers.

    Sixty people die every day as a result of overdoses from opioids. In a year, that's 22,630 deaths, a total roughly equal to the population of a small town.

    Americans know opioids are addictive, but they do not understand how addictive, according to a public opinion poll conducted by the National Safety Council. Nine out of 10 opioid painkiller users said they were unconcerned about addiction. Yet, nearly 60% reported at least one addiction risk factor in looking at personal or family history.

    In part, these findings help explain the steady increase in prescription drug overdoses, which has raised death rates for white adults between the ages of 25 and 34, and helps explain why drug overdose deaths have spiked in nearly every corner of America.

    NSC examined a physician study of Medicare claims in Pennsylvania and New Jersey and found those taking opioids experienced:

    • A greater risk of having a cardiovascular event
    • Equal rates of GI bleeding
    • Four times as many fractures
    • 68% greater risk for being hospitalized for an adverse drug event
    • 87% greater risk of dying during the study period

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines call for everyone on chronic opioid treatment to undergo periodic evaluation to assess the risk of opioid-related side effects.

    Opioids to Heroin: All Too Common Transition

    When Louis Miceli suffered an injury playing high school football in suburban-Addison, IL, his doctor prescribed opioid painkillers. He grew addicted to the drugs. He later switched to heroin and eventually died of an overdose. Studies show 4% to 6% of opioid misusers will transition to heroin.

    Today, Miceli's mother, Felicia, works with NSC to address the risks of opioids that can lead to addiction. Research indicates 80% of new heroin users started with opioid pain relievers.

    Opioid Side Effects: On the Road, in the Workplace

    Opioids are known to increase patient sensitivity to pain and produce harmful side effects. Emotional and physical withdrawal symptoms range from anxiety and restlessness to muscle tension and tightness in the chest.

    On the road and in the workplace, opioids pose risks, too, particularly for those involved in safety-sensitive positions such as forklift drivers and crane operators. In larger doses, opioids can cause marked impairment, leading to drowsiness, lethargy and even death.

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Louis Miceli

Louis Miceli was prescribed opioids after he was injured playing high school football. He became addicted and ended up switching to heroin. He died of an overdose at age 24.