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Prescription Drug Poisonings on the Rise

By Rheingold Giuffra Ruffo Plotkin & Hellman LLP

Deaths and hospitalizations caused by prescription drug misuse have reached “epidemic proportions,” according to new research. In fact, drug poisoning is now the leading cause of unintentional injury death among people 35 to 54 years of age.

In a study published in the May edition of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers detailed a dramatic 65 percent increase in hospitalizations for poisoning by misuse of prescription opioids, tranquilizers and sedatives from 1999 to 2006.

Hospitalizations for poisoning by methadone – a drug used to treat heroin addiction – rose by 400 percent, while hospitalizations involving benzodiazepines (Xanax, Valium, Ativan, among others) jumped 39 percent.

Addressing a Crisis

In the article, the study’s lead author, Dr. Jeffrey H. Coben of the West Virginia University School of Medicine wrote that it’s crucial for physicians, hospitals, pharmacists and others in the medical industry to cooperatively work to “address this crisis.”

The study is the first all-inclusive look at U.S. hospitalizations linked to prescription medications. Data was gathered from the Nationwide Inpatient Sample, containing records for eight million hospitalizations per year.

During the study period, hospitalizations for poisonings by barbiturates (Amytal, Nembutal and others) decreased 41 percent; poisoning by antidepressants fell 13 percent.

According to a 2004 survey on drug use by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2.4 million Americans engage in recreational use of prescription pain relievers.

Coben wrote in his study that prescription drugs are just as unsafe when misused as street drugs.

Doctor Shopping and More

People acquire prescription drugs in a variety of ways, beginning with legitimate prescriptions written by their personal physicians. Other means of obtaining medications include doctor shopping, internet purchases, theft, improper prescriptions written by physicians and sharing of prescription medications among friends and family members.

Doctor shopping has recently repeatedly surfaced in the news accompanying celebrity deaths caused by overdoses of prescription drugs. Doctor shopping involves going to numerous doctors to get prescriptions for powerful painkillers and tranquilizers. Some physicians unwittingly aid addicts in their search for prescription medications, while other doctors – especially some at notorious “pain clinics” – make a lucrative living writing prescriptions to those hooked on the drugs or selling the substances illegally.

If you have a loved one whose addiction illness has been enabled by a doctor writing illicit prescriptions, contact a medical malpractice lawyer who can help you to use the law to protect your family.

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