Poison Prevention

Prescription Painkiller Overdoses – A Public Health Epidemic

Overdoses from prescription painkillers kill more Americans than those from heroin and cocaine – combined.

Image: markuso / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

That’s a pretty startling statistic. But a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says just that.

On November 1, the CDC reported that overdose deaths from prescription painkillers have “skyrocketed” since 1999, when 4,000 people were killed by painkillers like hydrocodone, oxycodone and methadone. In 2008, that number jumped more than three times – to nearly 15,000. That’s more than 40 people every day!

The CDC is calling prescription painkiller overdoses a “public health epidemic.” In fact, almost half a million emergency room visits in 2009 were related to painkiller misuse or abuse.

The experts at America’s 57 poison centers receive thousands of calls each year about exposures to medicines, including painkillers. In fact, in 2009, poison centers fielded more than 12,000 calls about exposures to acetaminophen with hydrocodone. And that’s just one example!

So what can you do about it? Actually, quite a bit!

  • Don’t ever share medicine with someone else. A medicine is prescribed for you and only you. 
  • Read the label and follow your doctor’s or pharmacists’ instructions.
  • Always lock up your medicine, including painkillers. That way, young children won’t get into the medicine and it will be harder for teens or others to take something they shouldn’t.
  • Keep track of how many pills are in each bottle so you’ll know if some are missing.
  • Discard all unused medicines as soon as you finish taking them. The FDA website has information about how to dispose of medicine safely.

And if someone accidentally takes too many painkillers, takes someone else’s painkillers, or intentionally abuses them, call your local poison center at 1-800-222-1222 right away. The expert nurses, pharmacists, doctors and other trained poison specialists are ready to help 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Your call is always free and private.

The American Association of Poison Control Centers supports the nation’s 57 poison centers in their efforts to prevent and treat poison exposures. Poison centers offer free, private, expert medical advice 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We take calls in more than 150 languages and from the hearing impaired.

For questions about poison or if you think someone has been exposed to a poison, call 1-800-222-1222 to reach your local poison center.

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