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Painkillers are the leading cause of death among male patients taking high dose opioids, study reveals

A large scale study of patients in Ontario, Canada has found that one in four male patients taking high dose opioid painkillers later died as a result of opioid-related causes. Dr. David Juurlink, a physician involved with the study, said that these results underscored the importance of restricting the use of powerful opioid painkillers like fentanyl and oxycodone in order to reduce the risk of overdose and other complications for patients.

The Ontario study followed more than 30,000 patients who had been prescribed high dose opioid painkillers by their doctor. Researchers found that men were much more likely to escalate to high doses than women, and that men were twice as likely to die from opioid-related causes.

Dr. Juurlink said that he was staggered to learn that 1 in 20 male patients taking high dose opioids died as a result overdose or other effects from these drugs. Based on these findings, he said, male patients taking opioid medications were more likely to die from these drugs than any other cause.

Part of the problem, Dr. Juurlink stated, is the willingness of doctors to prescribe powerful opioid medications to treat pain in their patients. This willingness to prescribe drugs like hydrocodone to patients with mild pain—and to escalate to more powerful pain medications like fentanyl or OxyContin when pain becomes more severe—has increased the risk that patients will abuse these drugs and the likelihood that they could suffer fatal complications.

Dr. Juurlink says that new safety measures—including a database to track opioid overdose deaths and a fentanyl patch exchange program—may help to deter abuse and to lower the number of opioid deaths caused by prescription medications. But he added that unless doctors were willing to change their prescribing practices and limit the number of opioid medications that they give to patients, it would be difficult to lower the number of deaths that occur because of opioid painkiller overdoses.

Opioid Overprescription Puts Patients at Risk

Although opioid painkillers can play an important role in treating some patients with pain, when they are not properly prescribed by a physician, these drugs can put lives of patients at risk. Doctors who prescribe these medications indiscriminately to their patients have also played a role in the epidemic of prescription painkiller overdoses in this country.

Patients may also be at risk when doctors prescribe opioid medications to their patients in combination with other drugs that depress the central nervous system. These medications can interact with the effects of opioid painkillers, causing a combined drug overdose that can lead to respiratory depression or death.

The marketing practices of drug companies who manufacture opioid painkillers have also had a disastrous effect on the lives of patients who have suffered addictions or overdoses because of these drugs. Abuse of prescription opioids, such as the powerful painkiller OxyContin, fueled a surge in overdose deaths, which quadrupled from 4,030 deaths in 1999 to 16,917 deaths in 2011, according mortality data collected by the CDC. In 2012, the latest year available, deaths from prescription painkillers “dropped” from 2011’s record high to 16,007, according to the CDC.

Opioid Overdose Victims Have Legal Rights

If you or a loved one has been the victim of an overdose or other serious complications caused by opioid overprescription, you may be eligible to file a lawsuit against the doctor or hospital that was responsible for your injuries. Many lawsuits have also been filed against the drug companies that manufacture opioid medications for their role in fueling the epidemic of opioid overprescription that has erupted in this country over recent decades.

When doctors and hospitals fail to exercise proper care when prescribing opioid medications, they may be putting the health—and even the lives—of their patients at risk. Surprisingly, doctors who prescribe strong painkillers to their patients sometimes have little experience with pain management drugs, causing them to prescribe drugs that are too powerful or in doses that exceed what a patient requires. Sadly, many of these mistakes end in addictions, overdoses, or deaths that could have been prevented.

The lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson have represented numerous individuals who have been the victim of complications caused by opioid painkiller prescriptions. Our law firm has handled more cases involving the fentanyl pain patch—a powerful opioid painkiller that is about 80-100 times more powerful than morphine—than all other law firms in the country combined.

If you or a loved one has been hurt by opioid painkiller medications, the lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson are ready to help. For more information about filing an opioid painkiller lawsuit and to learn if you may be eligible to file a case, contact our law firm by calling toll-free at 1-877-446-9001, or by following the link to our free case evaluation form located on this website and answering a few simple questions about your case.

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