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Abuse of Prescription Pain Medication

March 8, 2013  |  Falmouth Enterprise*

By Dr. Michael Bihari

Last year I was asked to write an editorial about prescription pain medication for a newsletter that was being sent to more than 50,000 physician offices around the country. Although the targeted readers for this article were healthcare professionals, I think there is a message for all of us about the dangers of narcotic pain medication.

Pain Prescriptions – Let’s Tighten The Lid!

Several months ago my wife and I both had back-to-back dental procedures, unsuccessful root canals followed by an extraction. We both were given prescriptions for three days of a strong painkiller - 24 more pills to add to our growing narcotic collection!

There is increasing concern about the widespread recreational abuse of painkillers by teens and young adults as well as recent reports about the dangers that adults (especially seniors) encounter when prescribed painkillers such as Oxycontin for painful disorders or following surgery.

Teens at Risk

It’s frightening to read some of the recent information about teen prescription pill abuse. In some parts of the country, prescription painkillers are the drugs of choice for youth adolescents. In fact, the average age of first use of painkillers for recreation is 12.5 years.

Although easy to purchase on “the street”, narcotic painkillers (including the generics) are expensive, often costing about $1.00 per milligram. In my community, one of the recreational pills of choice is Percodan 30msg., known as “Perc-30s” with a street value of $30 to $50 depending on supply. In many communities, demand has led to an increase in crime, most notably house break-ins and armed robbery.Where I live, the police estimate that upwards of 75% of all crime is related to prescription pain medication abuse! And, a recent survey of students in two local high schools documented a more than 50% increase in the recreational use of prescription pills during the past two years.

Sounding the Alarm

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is urging physicians to be more judicious when writing a prescription for a narcotic painkiller. Recent studies link these medications to sleep apnea, significantly reduced hormone production, and in seniors an increased risk of falls and hip fractures. Also, the long term use of narcotic medications in people with chronic pain may create psychological dependence that mirrors addiction.

Getting the Drugs off the Street

Federal, state, and local governments have been working to decrease the availability of these medications for recreational use. The White House Drug Control Office has funded and supported more than 1,000 community coalitions (including the Falmouth Prevention Partnership) dedicated to preventing teen substance abuse. Also, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has sponsored periodic National Prescription Take-Back Days that provides a place for people to safely dispose of unwanted medications. In the past several years more than 1.2 million pounds of unwanted drugs have been removed from circulation.

A Note to Physicians

Our patients must not suffer from pain, and to withhold appropriate pain medication is poor medical practice. However, we need to be careful not to use the most powerful drugs if they are not needed. My wife and I did not fill our prescriptions following our dental procedures. We both took over-the-counter medications for several days. When I have hip surgery, I will need a morphine drip!


MedlinePlus-Prescription Drug Abuse: Access to in-depth information about non-medical use of prescription pills.

*This article was written by Dr. Michael Bihari and originally published in the July 2012 edition of Physician Practice Options.

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