A study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health uncovered disturbing new patterns in Pennsylvania’s battle against opioid abuse and overdose. When analyzing over 6,000 cases of heroin or prescription painkiller overdoses, the study found:
- 43 percent of heroin overdose survivors had been taking opioids prior to overdose, with just below 40 percent continuing to do so after the event.
- 66 percent of people who survived prescription opioid overdose were found taking the drugs beforehand, with just under 60 percent continuing to be prescribed the medication afterward.
The discovery that opioid overdose survivors were continuing to be prescribed addictive painkiller medication despite life-threatening events may seem shocking, but it shines light onto a serious shortcoming in the medical industry when it comes to the substance abuse epidemic. Prescription medication abuse is one of the leading contributors to the growing public health and safety crisis, causing more deaths than motor vehicle accidents and violent crime. That Pennsylvanians who have survived opioid overdoses are still being prescribed the same powerful painkillers is terrifying and undoubtedly contributing to those numbers.
Pennsylvania is just a small sample of a pressing issue the entire country is facing. Around this time last year we reported on 60 heroin overdoses occurring along the Ohio-Indiana border in just 48 hours. In December 2016 Cleveland, Ohio saw seven overdose deaths in a single day. That may not sound like a lot, but considering that the population of Cleveland is less than 400,000, seven lost in 24 hours is alarming. In our own backyard, 2016 saw an overdose every two hours in South Florida.
The lead author of this study, Dr. Julie Donohue, states:
“Our findings signal a relatively weak health system response to a potentially life-threatening event. However, they also point to opportunities for interventions that could prevent future overdoses in particularly vulnerable populations.”
The primary source of intervention in preventing more opioid overdoses will have to come from the medical industry itself, specifically prescribing physicians and pharmacists. Greater training in recognizing signs of addiction as a medical professional and taking the proper precautions in the prescription process could positively impact the fight against substance abuse greatly. It’s also important for patients and consumers to be mindful of the risks they take. Be proactive and educated about your medication and seek help if you’re in need.