Monday, the National Safety Council reacted to new data from the National Center for Health Statistics showing opioid painkiller overdoses in 2014 jumped to an all-time high after years of being relatively stable. In the wake of this news, the Council recommends lawmakers, doctors and the public take immediate actions to help curb the deadliest drug crisis in United States history.
Between 2010 and 2013, an average of 16,453 people died each year from prescription opioid overdoses; last year 18,893 people fatally overdosed on medicines that include Oxycontin, Percocet and Vicodin (National Center for Health Statistics). The surge in fatal opioid overdoses has led to poisonings becoming the leading cause of unintentional death among American adults – the first time since WWII that the top slot belongs to something other than car crashes (Injury Facts 2015).
“Prescription opioids have been a flashing red light for years, but as a society we have not heeded the data warning us of the deadly cost of addiction,” said Deborah A.P. Hersman, president and CEO of the National Safety Council. “Our grace period is over. If we do not act quickly and deliberately, we will lose more people to preventable overdoses. Nothing is more tragic than that.”
At the federal and state levels, the National Safety Council calls for:
- The implementation of prescribing guidelines for physicians who are treating patients with chronic pain
- DEA-required education and additional training for medical practitioners who prescribe opioids
- Legislation that makes naloxone, an overdose antidote, widely available
- Accessible and affordable treatment
Americans must advocate for their own safety, too. The Council calls on the public to:
- Never share opioids. Three in four people who abuse prescription opioids get the drugs from friends or family (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Sharing opioids also is a felony in most states and considered the legal equivalent of selling heroin (NSC public opinion poll, 2015).
- Ask their doctors for alternative pain treatment. Research shows over-the-counter pain relievers are more effective at treating acute pain (NSC white paper, Evidence for the efficacy of pain medications).
- Talk to children about not taking drugs that are prescribed to others. One in eight high school students admits to taking prescription painkillers nonmedically (National Institute on Drug Abuse).
Visit nsc.org/rxpainkillers for more information.