Opioid overdose isn’t sufficient to cut opioid prescriptions according to the latest study conducted at the Boston University School of Medicine. Narcotic painkillers such as OxyContin or Vicodin continue to be prescribed to patients who overdose in 90 percent of the cases.
The finding comes on the heels of federal and state authorities facing a growing opioid use epidemic, spreading at an alarming rate. Narcotic painkillers are most often the best pain management solution for a large number of patients. Without many alternatives, doctors do prescribe opioids such as OxyContin or Vicodin.
The problem arises when these narcotic painkillers are abused and lead to overdose. Furthermore, a lack of communication and correlation between prescribers and emergency rooms for instance, as well as prescribers and insurance companies leads to an uninformed further opioid prescription to overdose patients.
The study, led by Doctor Marc Larochelle with the Boston University School of Medicine looked at nearly 3,000 insurance claims spanning 12 years, and including patients who overdosed on narcotic painkillers. The main finding: opioid overdose isn’t sufficient to cut opioid prescriptions.
Doctor Larochelle pointed out that the study’s findings aren’t meant to incriminate prescribers. Most of the doctors are simply unaware of the patients’ emergency room records or their opioid overdose episode. With no effective communication and information system in place, patients who are prescribed narcotic painkillers are themselves reluctant to give away this information to their doctors.
Looking for more opioids to be prescribed and a continuation, they will keep opioid overdose as a secret. Under these circumstances, doctors are hand-tied in most of the cases. At the same time, a patient’s insistence that narcotic painkillers are the only pain management plan possible leaves prescribers helpless.
It is indeed alarming that 90 percent of the patients who suffer opioid overdose continue to be prescribed OxyContin, Vicodin or other narcotic painkillers. For them, the study found, the chances of suffering another opioid overdose in the following two years increase twofold.
The study also found that 70 percent of opioid overdose patients continue getting their prescriptions from the same doctor. This illustrates best how the communication system is faulty. The doctors who continue prescribing narcotic painkillers after a patient had an opioid overdose episode are simply unaware of it.
According to Doctor Larochelle, emergency rooms and departments rarely forward their records to one doctor or another. In addition, insurance companies also do not inform the doctors on their patients’ opioid overdose. From this perspective, the health system needs to change. A better information and communication system needs to be put in place.
At the same time, Doctor Larochelle recommends that doctors who prescribe narcotic painkillers find a balance between the risks and the benefits these incur. The more opioids are out there, the higher the chances of addiction and opioid overdose.
One recent CDC report noted that drug overdose deaths have been registered at record high levels last years. The largest part of these deaths were prescription opioid overdose. In addition to narcotic painkillers, the second drug that took the highest toll was heroin.
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