Painkiller regulation lacking
Prescription painkiller use in the U.S. has skyrocketed in the past decade, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While many benefit from prescription drugs, others who abuse prescriptions or are overmedicated could be in serious danger. Painkillers are certainly beneficial for relieving short-term pain, but constant users should be more cautious of their long-term effects and reevaluate whether they truly need the drugs.
An investigation conducted by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and MedPage Today found that a network of doctors, researchers, pain organizations and painkiller companies have been profiting enormously from the prescription drug market over the past 15 years. The network initially pushed painkillers for short-term pain, but a larger population with long-term pain, such as back problems, latched onto the idea, and it spread like wildfire. Because of this demographic change, pharmacies are now selling four times as many prescription painkillers as they were in 1999. However, science has not yet caught up with the widespread use, and doctors admit that this could be problematic.
“We’ve never really exposed so many people to so much drug for so long,” Mark Sullivan, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington, told McClatchy-Tribune. “We don’t really know what the long-term results are.”
Celebrity deaths, including Heath Ledger’s painkiller overdose, have brought attention to the dangers of prescription painkillers. But it’s not just abusers or junkies who are in danger — it’s also the average citizen taking them by doctor’s orders. According to the CDC, more people in the U.S. die of prescription drug overdoses than heroin and cocaine combined.
Some doctors are trying to combat this dangerous trend by removing certain prescription painkillers from the market.
A Food and Drug Administration panel of doctors recommended removing Vicodin, America’s most popular painkiller according to Forbes.com, from the market. The pill is made of hydrocodone and acetaminophen and was prescribed 128 million times in 2009. After 40 years on the market, doctors now know the risks of long-term Vicodin use include severe liver damage.
These drugs have just as serious consequences with short-term use. Last year a UA student, Wilson Forrester, died from mixing alcohol and drugs, including the prescription painkiller oxycodone.
There is a growing trend of young adults abusing these drugs, according to the 2011 American College Health Association National College Health Assessment. The report shows 14.6 percent of surveyed students reported illegally using prescription drugs in the last year, compared to 13.5 percent in 2008. If students are starting this habit this early, then their future health might be further jeopardized by their past use.
Some people truly need prescription painkillers, but the effect of long-term use is a big unknown, and the more people take them, the greater the potential for abuse. The federal government should require more research on long-term effects of prescription painkillers before allowing them to be sold. And doctors should stop prescribing these drugs if they’re only concerned with lining their pockets with the profit.