Officials with the Drug Enforcement Agency say that despite the recent increase in opioid painkiller overdose deaths, doctors and hospitals often fail to consult a registry designed to deter opioid abuse when prescribing these drugs to patients. According to one DEA official, one such registry in Denver is only consulted about 10-15% of the time before doctors prescribe opioid painkillers to their patients.
Opioid painkillers are prescription drugs made either from chemicals derived from opium or synthetic chemicals designed to mimic their effects. Some of the most commonly prescribed opioid painkillers in the U.S. include hydrocodone, morphine, oxycodone, fentanyl, and methadone.
Experts say that even if lawmakers were able to make the use of such a database mandatory before painkillers could be dispensed to patients, it would take years to tie each state’s drug registry together in a national database. Health officials have undertaken a number of other measures, including doctor education programs, in order to help decrease the 15,000 painkiller overdose deaths that occur in the U.S. each year.
In addition to the risk of abuse associated with prescription painkillers, patients who are prescribed these drugs may face a risk of serious side effects from using opioid medications. Even when taken at normal doses, opioid painkillers can slow a patient’s breathing, putting them at risk of falling into respiratory arrest, which can be fatal. Over the last 15 years, opioid painkillers have been the leading cause of prescription drug overdose deaths in the U.S.