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Patients who have Overdosed Continue to be Prescribed Opioids, Study Finds

Update Date: Dec 29, 2015 11:48 AM EST

Patients with a history of nonfatal overdoses from prescription pain relievers continue to be prescribed opioids, a new study is reporting.

According to the report, in more than 90 percent of the cases involving chronic pain patients who had survived overdoses from prescription painkillers, doctors had written them prescription drugs, such as OxyContin, Vicodin and Percocet, without properly assessing the risks involved due to a lack of information.

In 70 percent of these cases, the patients had received drugs a second time from the very same doctor who had prescribed them the drugs prior to the initial overdoses. The researchers noted that in the majority of the cases, these doctors were most likely unaware of the fact that their patient had suffered from an overdose.

"This signals a problem with the health system, but I don't think it necessarily fingers doctors as being bad doctors," lead researcher Dr. Marc Larochelle, an assistant professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine, said reported by HealthDay via Philly.com.

Larochelle added, in the news release, "The intent of this study is not to point fingers but rather use the results to motivate physicians, policy makers and researchers to improve how we identify and treat patients at risk of opioid-related harms before they occur."

The team found that people who have overdosed once before are two times more likely to overdose again within two years. Overall, seven percent of the original group of patients who had overdosed (212 patients) overdosed a second time. The researchers noted that in order to prevent drug overdoses, doctors must reconsider how often they prescribe these drugs.

"There is a direct correlation that the more narcotics you put in the population, the more overdoses you are going to have," Larochelle said.

If doctors continue to prescribe drugs at such high levels, overdoses from prescription opioids could continue to increase. A recent report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the rate of drug overdoses in the U.S. has reached epidemic levels. In 2014, at least 47,000 people in America died from overdoses from all kinds of drugs, ranging from heroin to prescription painkillers. This rate is a 14 percent increase from the rate calculated in 2013.

The data that the researchers examined came from a national commercial insurance claims database known as Utilizing Optum. The database included information on 50 million people over the time span of 12 years. The team singled out nearly 3,000 individuals who had suffered from a nonfatal overdose while they were on prescription opioids to treat chronic pain.

The study's findings were published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

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