Drug overdoses have surpassed car wrecks as the leading cause of death in Hawaii, according to a recent report in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.
In the five years from 2009 through 2013, drug poisonings killed 773 people in the state, compared with 685 who were killed in falls and 618 who lost their lives in car crashes, according to the Hawaii Injury Prevention and Control Program. Traffic crashes were the leading cause of injury deaths for the four previous five-year periods.
The numbers are consistent with federal data on fatal overdoses, which are also the leading cause of accidental death nationwide. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the nation is in the midst of a prescription-drug overdose epidemic. A physician who over-prescribes drugs that lead to a patient’s injury or death may be held accountable for medical malpractice. Doctors have a legal duty to prescribe medications responsibly.
Dan Galanis, an epidemiologist with the Hawaii Injury Prevention and Control Program, pointed out that doctors are prescribing powerful drugs to help patients cope with chronic pain. Some of the drugs most likely to be over-prescribed and misused include Oxycontin, Avinza, Dolophine and Duragesic, according to the Food and Drug Administration.
Experts think overdose problems are partly due to a lack of public awareness of the dangers involving prescription drugs. Some patients don’t realize the drugs can become addictive. And young people who steal drugs from their parents’ medicine cabinets don’t understand the consequences of taking those prescription medications.
Keith Kamita, who works in the Hawaii Department of Public Safety’s Narcotics Enforcement Division, said the young people he speaks with have no idea that prescription pills can be addictive and deadly, the AP said.
Consequently, the Hawaii Department of Health is using an online prescription-drug monitoring program that enables doctors and pharmacists to check patients’ medication histories to see whether they are getting opiates from other doctors.
The people at highest risk of a drug overdose are likely to get the medication through a doctor’s prescription, researchers with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in a 2014 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine. The findings highlight the need for prevention efforts that focus on doctors’ prescribing behaviors and patients at high risk of overdoses.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drug overdoses killed 38,329 people in 2010, more than twice the number of overdose deaths in 1999.
A 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that more than 5 million Americans admitted misusing opioid painkillers during the last month, increasing the likelihood of overdose, injury, crime-related violence and suicide.
The FDA reclassified products containing hydrocodone to Schedule II in 2013. The agency acted after hearing from parents whose children died from addiction as well as from the Drug Enforcement Administration, which detailed how hydrocodone-based drugs are being abused, according to the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists.
While these prescription painkillers certainly have a legitimate place in the medical world, it is clear that doctors need to be more responsible in prescribing opioids and screening patients for risk of abuse.