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A Majority of ER Visits Traced Back to One Culprit

A new study out of Stanford University found that the majority of opioid-related emergency room visits in the U.S. are directly related to prescription drugs commonly prescribed by doctors.

The findings, published in the latest issue of JAMA Internal Medicine, reveal that prescription painkillers and methadone are responsible for 67.8 percent of all emergency room opioid visits, with heroin and non-prescription drugs comprising the other 32 percent. The ER visits were fairly equally divided among gender: 53 percent women and 47 percent men. What’s more, nearly 84 percent of the overdoses occurred in large cities.

A Look at Local ERs

Researchers found that prescription drug emergency room visits and the follow-up inpatient care added up to a staggering $2.3 billion, resulting in a “significant financial and health care utilization burden on the U.S. health care system.”

Many of the prescription drug ER visits were comprised of patients that were already suffering from mental health issues, poor circulation and respiratory problems, which might contribute to the complications and added expenses in treating them.

On a good note, only 1.4 percent of the overdose-related ER visits resulted in death.

The Opiate Epidemic

“The amount that [opioids] are administered by well-meaning physicians is excessive”-Dr. Robert WaldmanNew statistics released last month by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention illustrate why opioid abuse has been dubbed an “epidemic.” Astonishingly, prescription drug deaths quadrupled between the years of 1999 and 2011, climbing from 4,263 opioid overdoses in 1999 to 17,000 in 2011.

Last April, the National Institute of Drug Abuse reported more than 100 overdose deaths occur per day, making prescription drugs more deadly than car accidents, guns, and suicide. As a matter of fact, enough painkillers were prescribed in 2010 to medicate every American adult around-the-clock for a month.

“The amount that [opioids] are administered by well-meaning physicians is excessive,” said Dr. Robert Waldman, an addiction medicine consultant. “Most physicians are people-pleasers who want to help and want to meet people’s needs, and they are more inclined to give people the benefit of the doubt until you are shown otherwise.”

Still Looking for Answers

Many states have started to address the opiate epidemic by allowing easier access to naloxone, a prescription drug that blocks the brain receptors to which heroin or other opioids bind. Naloxone is administered via needle or nasal inhaler.

Twenty-five states and the District of Columbia now have access laws for naloxone, while three states have passed Good Samaritan laws that allow friends or bystanders of the victim to call 911 without being prosecuted for a drug crime. Rhode Island, Washington and New York also recently allowed naloxone to be given to anyone who has authorization from a physician.

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