Dangerous Opioid Side Effects Lead to Death

Opioid pain killers cause death

Opioid medications have been used for hundreds of years to treat both pain and mental problems. In the last 20 years, however, there has been a 600% increase in opioid prescribing in the United States. Though America accounts for only 4.6% of the world population, we consume 80% of the world’s opioids. This has led to to a huge increase in opioid addiction and deaths from overdosing.

Some believe that this increase in prescribing is due to the belief that medical professionals hold that opioids are safer than other pain medication alternatives. This is simply not the case. Opioids are extremely dangerous and are taking entirely too many innocent lives. Doctors must use better judgement when prescribing them.

Opioid side effects

Though opioids are very helpful in treatment of pain, they have many negative side effects that are often not considered upon prescribing them. Side effects can include:

  • Gastrointestinal – Constipation, nausea and vomiting, gastrointestinal bleeding
  • Impaired recovery from injury or surgery – Opioids following injury actually delay recovery and increase the risk of permanent damage.
  • Psychological and Physical Side-effects – Opioids taken before and after surgery can affect recovery time and outcome, and can lead to depression.
  • Cognitive impairment – Larger doses of opioids lead to drowsiness, lethargy, reduced spatial memory capacity, impaired performance in working memory, and even death.
  • Respiratory depression – Opioids adversely affect the respiratory system. High doses of opioids induce sleep and slow down breathing. This often leads to suffocation and death, and is the reason that so many overdoses occur.

Abuse that Leads to Death

Opioids account for more deaths than any other medication. More than 16,000 people die each year from an opioid overdose.

Many who lose their lives are taking opioids that were not prescribed to them. Opioids may even be responsible for many more deaths than we think because the deaths are frequently attributed to other causes. Opioid abuse often progresses to intravenous use, which may result in HIV or hepatitis C infections. Abuse of these drugs leads to impairment that can be responsible for car accidents, falls and more.

If you, a friend or a loved one is abusing opioids, do all that you can to find them help. Awareness of the dangerous side effects just may lead to fewer serious injuries and deaths.



Painkiller Overdoses Affecting More Women than Men

The United States consumes over 90% of the world’s supply of prescription painkillers. But Why? Does the U.S. account for over 90% of the pain in the world? The answers to why the U.S. is in the grips of a national pain killer addiction epidemic are multi-factoral and complex.

Overdose  deaths from prescription drug overdoses has surpassed deaths from illicit street drugs. New powerful painkillers are being put onto the market and the corporate healthcare  and pharmaceutical industry is making millions as a result.

Although media attention has focused a lot recently on the epidemic of prescription drug overdoses,  the problem only  continues to increase throughout the U.S. The use of prescription painkillers is on the rise and this is leading to more preventable deaths. Unfortunately, the problem is impacting women especially.

Between the years of 1999 and 2010, almost 48,000 women died as a result of painkiller overdoses. Those deaths have risen at a rate of 400 percent for women, while painkiller deaths for men have only risen by 265 percent. What this breaks down to, according to the CDC, is the tragic fact that 18 women are dying every day as a result of painkiller overdoses.

 Healthcare Providers Can Do More

Healthcare providers can certainly do more to put a stop to the problem by acknowledging it, following guidelines on prescribing painkillers, and conducting regular reviews of the patients under their care. Prescription drug monitoring programs already exist and can be critical for giving providers details about situations outside the norm that could warrant intervention.

Part of the problem stems from unscrupulous doctors prescribing drugs for reasons other than a legitimate medical problem. In addition, we have learned much about  the causes of  prescription drug abuse .  Addiction is a brain disease and it can rob the addicted person of the cognitive ability to make good choices. That is why it is even more important for health care providers to be vigilant.

Although the War on Drugs focused on other kinds of drugs in the past, the spotlight on prescription drugs is relatively recent.

Dangers and Side Effects

There are major dangers in using a drug for the wrong purpose, and many people may not be aware of these dangers. Many prescription drugs are known for having adverse effects for users. In an appropriate scenario, a physician would be watching over these side effects and providing treatment and insight to the individual. There are well known indicators to alert healthcare providers when prescription drugs are being misused. However, when there is no medical oversight,  the chances that an addicted patient will overdose or die increases greatly.

Physicians are not the only problem. When a person is self-medicating without the guidance of a doctor, he or she is more likely to make mistakes that could result in an overdose or death. Simply not understanding the risks and proper usage of such medications can really put a user at risk.

Addiction to Painkillers Happens Quickly

Drug dependence with painkillers has also been evidenced through research, showing a dangerous link between prescription drugs and overdoses.  Many of the painkillers on the market today are highly addictive. In some cases, the painkillers mimic the effects of heroin and other highly addictive drugs. In some instances, persons who have become addicted to painkillers have switched addictions and moved on to illegal drugs, such as heroin.

There are numerous steps that can be taken at the federal, state, provider, and individual level that can alleviate the negative impact of so many women overdosing on painkillers.

  • Stricter controls must  employed to make it harder to get these medications.
  • Physicians must  education  themselves about how to screen for addiction and misuse.
  • Physicians must stick to only prescribing painkillers for demonstrated medical need.
  • Patients need to be educated about the risk of addiction, overdose and death.  

Painkillers Have Their Place

Patients who are legitimately prescribed painkillers, and choose to take them properly for a certain amount of time may  benefit from them. It is very important to take them only as prescribed and to be completely honest with your doctor if you feel yourself beginning to crave the drug.

Make sure that if you have used painkillers in the past and have kept them in the home to instead find a safe way to dispose of them. This way, they won’t be stolen by an abuser or accidentally located by a child.

 In the course of my practice, I have seen far too many tragic cases. There seems to be a misperception that only bad people get addicted or die of drug overdoses, but nothing could be further from the truth. I have represented many wonderful people, whose lives were destroyed by addiction and I have litigated cases on behalf of  many fine families whose loved one accidentally overdosed and died. This problem affects everyone. PLEASE HELP US SPREAD THE WORD!


Why are Prescription Drug Overdoses Still Increasing a Decade Later?

Opening Article in Series: Solving the Prescription Drug Overdose Epidemic

Solving the Opioid and Heroin Overdose Epidemic

Opioid Epidemic Continues

Prescription drug overdoses and addiction, in particular opioids, are an epidemic in the United States. Each year, as it has for the past decade, the problem continues to increase.

Why are 16,917 people still losing their lives to opioid addiction?

Why has there been a continual increase from 4,030 deaths in 1999 to 16,651 in 2010?

Though it seems to be stabilizing, it’s not going down, and that’s bad news. This tragic epidemic is taking more lives each year than automobile accidents. Why doesn’t this warrant immediate action?

This is the first in a series of posts I will write that will examine the issue, those that play a role in in every part of an addict’s life, as I attempt to get to the bottom of the problem. These deaths are preventable and it’s time to take action and find a solution.

Troubling Trend

First, let me point out a troubling trend that seems to go hand in hand with opioid addiction, according to Leonard Paulozzi, MD, MPH, a physician and researcher with the CDC in Atlanta:

75% of heroin users say their addiction started with prescription opioids.

Deaths from heroin overdoses are on the increase as well, and it is believed that many opioid addicts turn to heroin when they can no longer obtain prescription opioids.

Doctors must do more.

Doctors could put the damper on the overdose increase by screening for patients who are doctor shopping by checking prescription drug monitoring programs in their states. They can also require urine screens to detect if patients are using illicit drugs. Doctors have got to do more, and we will examine this further within the series.

Lewis Nelson, MD, a toxicologist and emergency medicine specialist at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, believes the continual increase rather than decline is seriously concerning. Although there is an obvious lag in the reporting of overdoses, we have known about this problem for long enough and it should have already been solved.

Other professionals say this growing number of opioid and heroine deaths is something that could have been predicted a decade ago.

Treatment has got to be as easily accessible as the pills or the heroine, and as of right now, it is not. There are not many medical specialists who are surprised by the number of deaths occurring. They’ve seen it coming.

All feel that we could have and should have been better prepared for this new trend of addicts moving from opioids to heroin.

Here we are in 2014 faced with a decade long trend that needs to stop. What can be done? Is it too late? Who is responsible?

Join me every Monday as we explore these tough questions in this informational series in hopes of finding a solution. We can all play a role in fighting this war against opioid and heroin addiction deaths. I think we all agree that something has got to be done to stop it today.

What are your thoughts on who is responsible?


Girl Injured by Children’s Motrin Still Suffering 10 Years Later

A 13 year-old girl was awarded $10 million more than 10 years after suffering an adverse reaction to Children’s Motrin. She continues to suffer today with Stevens-Johnson syndrome and toxic epidermal necrolysis syndrome (TENS).

In 2000, three year-old Brianna Maya was given Children’s Motrin.  Shortly after, she developed a rash on her body and redness around her eyes.  Brianna was having an adverse reaction to the Motrin, and it was only going to get worse.

A few weeks later a painful and potentially fatal skin reaction had burned her body, blinded her in one eye, and sent her more than 1,000 miles from home to the Shriners Burn Hospital in Galveston, Texas.  Brianna had developed Stevens-Johnson syndrome in which the mucus membranes of the cornea, mouth, and rectum are broken down after blistering.  She also developed toxic epidermal necrolysis syndrome (TENS), which is a more severe form of Stevens-Johnson syndrome and affects a larger area of skin and mucus membranes.

Over 10 years later, Brianna is still suffering from the adverse reaction she had to the Children’s Motrin.  She has had to undergo eye surgeries and has developed seizures.  More than 84 percent of her skin is gone.  She has suffered brain damage due to the lack of oxygen to her brain over the years. She continues to develop lung infections, which affect her breathing.

Brianna’s mother never knew that a seemingly safe over-the-counter medicine could do so much damage to her daughter. No warning of the syndromes was given on the drug’s label.

After finding that Brianna suffered an adverse reaction to the drug in 2000, a jury in Pennsylvania awarded Brianna $10 million.  Of course, no amount of money will ever compensate Brianna for the pain and suffering she has had to endure throughout her childhood.


Tylenol Lowers Daily Recommended Dose

Johnson & Johnson has recently lowered the daily recommended dose for its popular OTC drug, Extra Strength Tylenol. The drug, which contains acetaminophen, has been shown to cause liver failure when patients overdose on it.

Tylenol! Pictures, Images and Photos

Do you take over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications daily at the maximum recommended dosage?  If so, you may be over-medicating yourself.  

Johnson & Johnson, the manufacturer of the popular OTC pain pill Tylenol recently announced that it would be reducing the recommended dose of its Extra Strength Tylenol from 4,000 mg or eight pills a day to 3,000 mg or six pills a day.  Tylenol contains acetaminophen, which is found in more than 600 medicines, including Alka-Seltzer, Nyquil, and Sudafed.   People mixing these medicines often unknowingly overdose on acetaminophen.
So why is Johnson & Johnson changing its dosing instructions now?  More than 56,000 Americans are hospitalized each year after overdosing on acetaminophen, which can cause liver failure.  In fact, acetaminophen overdoses are the leading cause of liver failure in the United States and lead to nearly 458 deaths each year.
Because acetaminophen is found in so many other OTC products, Johnson & Johnson thought it would be best for consumers if the company lowered the daily recommended dose.  New labels on Extra Strength Tylenol with the reduced dosage will start rolling out this fall.  Next year, Johnson & Johnson will also change the dosing instructions on its regular Tylenol.
While health experts are praising Johnson & Johnson for voluntarily changing the labels to reflect the lower recommended dosage, they are also worried that companies that produce similar OTC products are not informing consumers sufficiently about these medicines and how they may interact with other medicines.
Beginning as early as 2009, some medical experts called on Johnson & Johnson and the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to lower the recommended dose to as little as 2,600 mg per day.  They also urged the major pharmaceutical company to require a prescription be written for Extra Strength Tylenol 500 mg.  Neither of these changes were made at the time, and Extra Strength Tylenol is still available as an OTC medication.
In recent years, Johnson & Johnson has suffered major setbacks in manufacturing several of its popular OTC drugs.  Just this year, the company recalled 43 million packages of Tylenol, Benadryl, Sudafed, and Sinutab products because the equipment used to produce the drugs was not sufficiently cleaned.
Even with “safe” OTC drugs on the market, pharmaceutical companies need to help consumers understand what ingredients are in the medicines they are taking, how those interact together, and the maximum dosage of each drug they should be taking per day.