To what extent, if any, should restrictions be placed on prescribing powerful painkillers that are increasingly linked to abuse and overdose deaths? That issue is being debated in the state of Washington, where regulations are being developed to prevent docs from prescribing higher doses to patients who are not benefiting, The New York Timesreports. Instead, docs would be required to refer patients for evaluation if no improvement is shown.
Nationwide, fatalities from prescription drug overdoses are the second-leading cause of accidental death after car accidents and, in some states, are the leading cause, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Last year, narcotic pain killers accounted for 7 percent of all prescribed drugs, and the number of patients annually taking long-acting versions has increased about 30 percent over the last decade, the Times writes. Among the meds is OxyContin and fentanyl.
While many patients benefit from pain killers, there is growing evidence from studies, including one in Washington State, that patients suffer significant side effects, such as lethargy, increased sensitivity to pain and, sometimes, potentially fatal overdoses.