US doctors do not realise the risks of prescription painkillers, survey finds

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11th August 2015 14:49 - Pharmaceutical

A recent survey has revealed that American doctors are not fully aware of the risks of prescription painkillers, which is consequently US doctors do not realise the risks of prescription painkillers, survey findscontributing to misuse.

Approximately 50 per cent of the 1,000 primary care doctors, who took part in the survey, claimed that abuse-deterrent tablets, which cannot be crushed, sniffed or injected, are not as addictive as standard prescription painkillers (opioids).

Dr. G. Caleb Alexander, co-director of the Center for Drug Safety and Effectiveness at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore - and also the research leader – said of the findings:

"Physicians and patients may mistakenly view these medicines as safe in one form and dangerous in another, but these products are addictive no matter how you take them."

"If doctors and patients fail to understand this, they may believe opioids are safer than is actually the case and prescribe them more readily than they should,” He added.

The research also found that primary care doctors (internists, general practitioners and family physicians) are the top prescribers of painkillers in the United States.

Since 1990, prescription drug overdose death rates have more than tripled and the general use of prescription painkillers nearly doubled between 2000 and 2010. The prescription painkillers referred to in this instance are: oxycodone (OxyContin and Percocet), hydrocodone (Vicodin), morphine (Kadian and Avinza) and codeine.

Of the respondents, 1 in 3 said that they feel that most prescription drug abusers do not consume tablets orally, as they’re intended, however, the research discovered that the vast majority do in fact take pills by mouth. The study’s authors highlighted that few patients snort or inject prescription painkillers.

"Doctors continue to overestimate the effectiveness of prescription pain medications and underestimate their risks, and that's why we are facing such a public health crisis,"Dr. G. Caleb Alexander said. "When it comes to the opioid epidemic, we must be cautious about overreliance on technological fixes for what is first and foremost a problem of overprescribing."

All of the doctors in the survey said that they believe that prescription drug abuse was at least a minor problem in their community, whereas more than 50 per cent said that they felt it was a “big” issue in their area.

The consensus was that the respondents were in favour of any measures which had the potential to decrease prescription painkiller abuse. For example, approximately 90 per cent said that they “strongly supported” restricting patients, who are prescribed painkillers, to only one prescriber and/or pharmacy. This would restrict the amount of tablets they could receive.

Of the doctors, 2 in 3 said that they strongly supported the idea of “contracts”, whereby patients agree to use their medication as directed and not re-sell or give to anyone else. As well as this, more than 50 per cent strongly supported the idea of urine tests for chronic painkillers to monitor correct prescription drug use.

The findings were originally published in June 2015 in the Clinical Journal of Pain.

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