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People Prescribed High Doses of Opiates are 9 Times More Likely to OD

posted 11:14 PM EST, Thu January 21, 2010
People Prescribed High Doses of Opiates are 9 Times More Likely to OD © Photo Credit: ThomasThomas

Research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine shows a clear link between the dosage of opiates prescribed and fatal overdose risk (in 2006, 14 000 Americans died from a prescription opiate overdose and roughly 100 000 had a non fatal overdose.)

Researchers at the Group Health Research Institute took medical data from almost 10 000 patients prescribed opiate medications for non cancer pain complaints, such as back pain or arthritis. The researchers found that people prescribed higher doses of opiate medications were 9 times more likely to have a fatal overdose than people on low to moderate doses of opiates. (However, because many more people receive low to moderate dose prescriptions for opiates than high dose prescriptions, the total number of overdoses was much higher for those on lower doses of the medications).

Lead researcher Dr. Michael Von Korff said that doctors need to more closely monitor patients prescribed opiates for chronic pain relief. He says that although there is a perception out there that most overdose deaths come from people abusing these medications, that, “our results suggest that many overdoses may occur among people using prescribed opioids." Dr Von Lorff also notes that although non fatal overdoses are less often tracked, for every fatal overdose there are 7 non fatal overdoses, and many of these non fatal overdoses are still quite medically serious events.

According to the CDC:

  • 8 million American  adults are currently using opiate medications chronically (3% of the total population)
  • In 2006, 14 000 Americans died from prescription opiates, which is a 300% increase from 1999

Study Co Author, Bruce M. Psaty, M.D. PhD. out of the University of Washington explained the significance of the research, saying, because so many people chronically use opiates to manage pain, “a significant opportunity exists to improve safety and the risk-benefit profile through more careful and cautious prescribing."

Read the full study report in the January 19th edition of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

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