The risk of death from OxyContin and other narcotic drugs

Originally published in Insidermedicine

The alarming risk of death associated with the use of prescribed narcotic drugs, particularly OxyContin, is highlighted in a study published in the latest issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Here is some information about narcotic drugs and OxyContin:

• Also known as opioid drugs, narcotics are commonly prescribed pain-relieving drugs

• Narcotics are dangerous because their side effects can include depression of breathing and a decrease in consciousness

• OxyContin, also known as oxycodone, is a particularly potent and popular narcotic

To evaluate the impact of narcotic drugs on death rates in Ontario, researchers from St. Michael’s Hospital and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES) in Toronto reviewed over 7,000 files from the Coroner’ office and linked these with provincial data on physician visits and medication prescribing. They also analyzed data on the sales of prescription narcotics that were collected by a private company. The researchers focused their evaluation on the period from 1991 to present.

Based on their analyses, prescriptions of OxyContin have increased by more than 850% during the study period. In 2006, this drug represented one-third of the narcotic prescriptions written in 2006 in Ontario. Since this drug began to be covered by provincial drug plans in 2000, deaths associated with its use have increased fivefold. In fact, deaths from use of prescribed narcotics far outstrip those associated with heroin use. Overall, 54% of deaths associated with prescribed narcotics were considered to be accidental. Most of those whose deaths were related to use of a prescribed narcotic drug had visited a doctor and received a prescription for the drug in the previous month.

Today’s research highlights the increased risk associated with prescribed narcotic drugs in general and OxyContin in particular. Both physicians and patients need to be better informed about the dangers of these drugs.

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