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ER visits for non-medical uses of opioid prescription drugs more than doubled from 2004 to 2008, U.S. says

June 17, 2010 | 10:40 am

Emergency room visits for non-medical uses of opioid prescription drugs more than doubled between 2004 and 2008, and for the first time the number of ER visits for prescription drugs equaled the number of visits for illegal and over-the-counter drugs, federal researchers said Thursday. "The abuse of prescription drugs is our nation's fastest-growing drug problem," Office of National Drug Policy Control director Gil Kerlikowske said in a statement. And the dramatic rise in abuse is occurring in both men and women and in both those under the age of 21 and those over it, he said.Oxycontin

The new data, reported in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, was compiled by researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, using data from SAMHSA's Drug Abuse Warning Network. The network collects data from 231 non-federal, short-stay general hospitals that operate 24-hour ERs that represent the spectrum of hospitals across the country. The network defines the non-medical use of a prescription drug as taking a higher-than-recommended dose, taking a drug prescribed for another person, drug-facilitated assault, or documented misuse or abuse. Suicide attempts, patients seeking detoxification and unintentional ingestions are included in other categories.

The researchers found that the estimated number of ER visits for non-medical uses of prescription narcotics increased from 144,644  in 2004 to 305,885 in 2008, a 111% increase. The number rose 27% from 2007 to 2008 alone. The most widely abused drugs were oxycodone, which rose 152% to 105,214 visits, hydrocodone, which rose 123% to 89,051 visits and methadone, which rose 73% to 63,629 visits. Researchers also found an 89% increase in visits for the family of anti-anxiety drugs known as benzodiazepines, with visits totaling 271,700 in 2008. Alcohol was involved in 15% of visits for opiods and 25% of visits for benzodiazepines.

Overall, the number of ER visits for the misuse and abuse of all drugs rose from 1.6 million in 2004 to 2 million in 2008. Visits for cocaine, heroin and other illicit drugs remained constant at 1 million, while the number of visits for prrescription and over-the-counter drugs doubled. About one in every four patients was admitted for further treatment.

-- Thomas H. Maugh II

The most widely abused prescription drugs, according to a new report, are oxycodones such as OxyContin. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / L.A. Times

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