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Deaths besides overdose now linked to Opioid painkillers

June 15, 2016  |  Posted by: JammedUp Staff
Deaths besides overdose now linked to Opioid painkillers

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Death from accidental overdose is not the only deadly risk of using potent prescription painkillers; new research has suggested that opioids are also linked to heart-related deaths and other fatalities as well.

With a sample of 45,000 participants in the study, those using opioid painkillers had a 64% higher risk of dying within six months after initial treatment compared to participants taking other pain medication. According to the Associated Press, 18% of deaths in opioid users stemmed from accidental overdoses.

Wayne Ray, the principal investigator of the study and a health policy professor at Vanderbilt University Medical School, said in a statement: “As bad as people think the problem of opioid use is, it’s probably worse.”

He continued, “They should be a last resort and particular care should be exercised for patients who are at cardiovascular risk.”

Ray’s findings are in line with recent advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Health issues particularly stem from the abuse of street drugs such as heroin, but also with prescription meds such as codeine, morphine, and hydrocodone.

The drugs have been shown to slow down breathing, and it can also worsen obstructed breathing that occurs with sleep apnea, which can lead to irregular heartbeats, cardiac arrest, and even sudden death.

In the United States, there were more than 14,000 deadly overdoses linked with painkillers in 2014. The results of the study suggest that even more have been killed with causes linked with the drugs, such as heart problems.

More than 45,000 adult Medicaid patients participated in the study from 1999-2012 in Tennessee who were prescribed medicine for chronic pain such as persistent backaches and arthritis.

Half of the study’s sample were administered long-acting opioids including methadone, controlled-release oxycodone, and fentanyl skin patches. Fentanyl is believed to be the culprit involved in Prince’s death back in April. It is unclear whether the singer took the pills, the patch, or some other form of the substance.

The danger associated with long-acting opioids is that they remain in the body longer, and this prolonged exposure can increase the risk of toxicity within the body.

The other half of the study sample were given prescriptions for non-opioids including gabapentin or certain antidepressants used for pain.

Among the opioid users, there were 185 fatalities compared to 87 of the control patients. The two groups were comparable in age, risk for heart problems, medical conditions, and other factors that could have influenced the outcomes.

The results have been published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

A potential limitation of the study is that participation was limited to Medicaid patients, who include disabled and low-income adults and are among the populations disproportionately affected by opioid misuse.

Ray noted that exclusion criteria for the study included those with any evidence of drug abuse and those who were extremely ill, he believed similar results would be found in other study populations as well.

The director of pain research at the University of Michigan Health System, Dr. Chad Brummett, said the study highlight the hazards associated with the drugs and provides justification as to why their use should be limited.

Brummet said, “We’ve sounded the alarm over and over again.”

Interestingly, other studies have even suggested that the drugs aren’t as effective in reducing back pain and some of the other conditions they are often used for. A pain management specialist at the University of Chicago, Dr. Magdalena Anitescy said that physical therapy and other non-pharmacological treatment can be efficacious in alleviating causes of pain.

Brummet also said that addressing the problem greatly involves changing patients’ perceptions of how pain should be treated, while also improving doctors’ knowledge about the medication.

He said, “We still have a major cultural shift ahead of us.”

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