Nonmedical abusers of prescription opioid drugs who have the highest risk of overdose are as likely to obtain them from a friend or family member as a physician’s prescription, according to researchers from the Centers for Disease Control.  The findings were published in the March issue of JAMA Internal Medicine.  

Data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) from 2008–2011 was analyzed for information on frequency of nonmedical use, type of opioid used, and the source of the opioid most recently used. It was found that 26% of nonmedical opioid users obtained the medications from friends or relatives at no cost, 23% purchased the opioids from friends or relatives, and 15% bought from a drug dealer. Those who reported nonmedical use of opioids for >200 days a year were at the highest risk of overdose, and 27% of this group obtained the drugs with their own prescriptions from a doctor.

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A second article in JAMA Internal Medicine by researchers from the Tennessee Department of Health, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, and CDC, found that opioid prescribing rates increased in Tennessee by 32% from 2007–2011. One-third of the state population filled a prescription for an opioid drug each year of the analysis. Overdose deaths from opioid analgesics were strongly associated with prescription of high-dose opioids (>100 morphine milligram equivalents a day) and with multiple prescribers and pharmacies as opioid sources.

The CDC stresses that the federal and state agencies need to collaborate to prevent prescription drug overdose and abuse of opioids and other prescription medications, including the development of opioid formulations with abuse-deterring properties. Healthcare providers are urged to screen for abuse risk and prescribe prudently by verifying records in the state prescription drug monitoring programs.

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