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National Safety Council: Opioid Prescription Painkillers Have Deadly Side Effects MechanismDigital/Thinkstock

National Safety Council: Opioid Prescription Painkillers Have Deadly Side Effects

Risk of death, unintentional injury is particularly high for elderly adults taking opioid painkillers

The National Safety Council (NSC) has released a white paper, The Psychological and Physical Side Effects of Pain Medications, which examines opioid painkillers, such as Vicodin and Oxycontin, and their impact on the people who take them.

“More Americans overdose on prescription painkillers than on heroin and cocaine combined,” said Deborah A.P. Hersman, president and CEO of NSC. “Yet, these medications are marketed as the Cadillac option for treating pain. If doctors and their patients understand the risks and side effects, they can discuss safer, more effective options. Without an honest dialogue, we’ll continue to see a cycle of addiction and overdose that has made opioid painkiller use a public health crisis.”

Some of the hidden side effects of opioid painkillers include rapidly developing addiction, withdrawal, constipation, permanent changes to brain chemistry, nausea, respiratory depression, increased sensitivity to pain, driving impairment and decreased sex drive. Opioid painkillers account for about $55.6 billion in societal costs each year, including worker’s compensation, employee productivity, patient care and crime.

Doctors often prescribe opioid painkillers to elderly adults because they are widely believed to be easier on their stomachs than over-the-counter pain relievers. In reality, research shows elderly adults taking opioid painkillers have an equal risk of gastrointestinal bleeding as those taking over-the-counterdrugs.

The NSC also released a national public opinion poll showing nearly 70 percent of those who take opioid prescription painkillers do not believe sharing the medications is a felony. In reality, most states consider sharing narcotic opioid painkillers, such as hydrocodone or oxycodone, to be the legal equivalent of selling heroin – punishable by as many as seven years in prison.

 The poll results are released in advance of National Poison Prevention Week, March 15-21.

 “Forty-five people die every day from overdosing on prescription painkillers,” said Hersman. “These medications are federally controlled substances and gateway drugs to heroin. Sharing drugs is never worth the risk, especially when non-addictive, over-the-counter pain relievers are often better options.”

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