Most opioid users take dangerous combinations of drugs, report says


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St. Louis – Most people taking opioid painkillers for long-term treatment are prescribed additional medications that could lead to a fatal drug combination, according to a report by prescription management company Express Scripts.

The report, released Dec. 9, presents an analysis pharmacy claims from 6.8 million Americans who filled at least one opioid prescription for long-term pain from 2009 to 2013. Results show two-thirds of patients taking dangerous mixtures of drugs were prescribed the medications by two or more physicians, and about 40 percent of patients filled their prescriptions at two or more pharmacies.

Additional results include:

  • Nearly half of patients who took opiate painkillers for more than 30 days in the first year continued to use them for three or more years.
  • Almost half of chronic opioid users took only short-acting medications, which increases their risk for addiction.

“The fact that the majority of these patients are being treated by multiple physicians and pharmacies signals a communication breakdown that leads to dangerous use,” Express Scripts Medical Director Lynne Nowak said in a press release.

Prescription drug overdose is a growing problem in the United States, with nearly 15,000 people dying annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.