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Painkillers Used with Other Drugs Can Kill You

February 27, 2016
Plain English Version

Mature older man holding tablet or pill with waterPainkillers are used to treat the kind of pain that people feel after surgery. They are for short-term use. The problem is that people can become addicted to them. It feels good to be pain free.

A new study shows that painkillers are being misused. Nearly half of the people who took painkillers for more than thirty days were still using them three years later. Researchers say such drugs also are being used in higher doses than expected.

It gets worse. Nearly 60 percent of these long-use patients also were using muscle relaxants and/or anti-anxiety drugs. These drugs can lead to dangerous reactions.

A doctor must prescribe painkiller drugs, anti-anxiety drugs and muscle relaxant drugs.

Painkiller drugs are called opioids. Common painkiller drugs include codeine, morphine, oxycodone and hydrocodone. Anti-anxiety drugs are called benzodiazepines. A common anti-anxiety drug is Xanax.

None of these drugs should be used in combination with the others. When multiple types are taken, it is called a “Houston cocktail.” This produces a heroin-like high.

Overdoses involving prescription drugs are a leading cause of accidental death in the United States. Opioid painkillers played a role in about 70 percent of such deaths. There were more than 16,000 opioid deaths in 2012.

What is going on? Doctors are partly responsible. Some people do “doctor shopping” in order to get multiple drug prescriptions. More doctor education is recommended. Doctors need to get more information from patients about their drug use before prescribing drugs.

The use of these drugs is higher among women and the elderly. The use is greater in the Southeast, particularly in small cities in Kentucky, Alabama, Georgia and Arkansas.

Source:  The New York Times December 9, 2014

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