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CDC Chief: Doctors Prescribe Pain Killers Too Often

Update Date: Jul 03, 2013 10:59 AM EDT

With advances in medicine that promise to have fewer side effects and more benefits, a lot of medical professionals tend to prescribe narcotics immediately. This practice of prescribing drugs has led to the development of antibiotic-resistant strains, making certain infections more lethal and harder to treat. Aside from overprescribing antibiotics, doctors tend to be quick to prescribe painkillers when their patients start to complain about pain. This practice can increase the patient's chances of becoming addicted to these drugs. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced yesterday, July 2, that doctors must be more selective when it comes to drug prescriptions, particularly for painkillers.

"There are dangerous medications, and they should be reserved for situations like severe cancer pain," the CDC's director, Tom Frieden said according to LA Times. "In many other situations, the risks far outweigh the benefits. Prescribing an opiate may be condemning a patient to lifelong addiction and life-threatening complications."

Within the past two decades, prescribing painkillers for pain in general have been on the rise. Doctors used to be discouraged against treating patients with painkillers out of the fear of addiction and overdose. Nowadays, drug manufacturers have been developing drugs that are supposed to be less addictive. However, the CDC is not sold on that fact and does not want the number of drug abuse cases to continue to rise.

"When I went to medical school, the one thing they told me about pain was if you give a patient in pain an opiate pain killer, they will not become addicted. And that was completely wrong." Frieden said.

Drug overdose has been on the rise in the United States. Over the past few years, researchers and analysts have reviewed the number of overdose cases. According to a LA Times analysis, there were over 3,600 deaths due to overdoses in Southern California between 2006 and 2011. The analysts evaluated the data and discovered that around 50 percent of the deaths were due to prescription drugs. Of these drugs, the main culprit was painkillers that were mostly prescribed after the patients suffered injuries.

In recent statistics, the CDC reported that in 2010, 15,300 women died from overdose in general. This rate is higher than the deaths that occur from car accidents or cervical cancer. This rate also represents a 400 percent increase in overdose fatalities in women since 1999.

"Mothers, wives, sisters and daughters are dying at rates that we have never seen before," Frieden said. "These are troubling numbers."

Frieden is now calling for all doctors to be extra careful when it comes to treating patents in pain. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is currently reviewing potentially new controls on painkillers, such as how they should be prescribed and promoted. Despite the fact that the FDA is considering a change in how narcotic painkillers are handled, some experts are not convinced that the agency will actually tighten regulations.

"I wonder how many people will have to die or become addicted before they finally listen," a New York addiction doctor, Dr. Andrew Kolodmy commented.

The FDA has not commented since this particular issue is currently pending.

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