Study: Smokers, substance abusers more likely to get in trouble with painkillers

WASHINGTON — Researchers say the person most likely to develop problems with prescription opiod painkillers is someone with a history of substance abuse, including nicotine.

A team at the Mayo Clinic took a random sample of 279 patients who received new prescriptions in 2009 for an opioid painkiller like oxycodone or morphine.

Though their initial prescription was only for a few days, one in four progressed from short term use to prescriptions lasting three months or longer.

When the researchers studied the patient profiles, they found that those most at risk of long term use were substance abusers, and/or smokers.

The lead author of the study, Mayo’s Dr. W. Michael Hooten says physicians needs to screen patients for these risk factors before writing that first prescription for opiod painkillers, and that all patients should avoid these medications whenever possible.

“If there are ever any alternatives — including non-opioid analgesics — or other non-medication approaches to managing the acute pain, that is the safest way probably to proceed,” he says.

Hooten cites data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that show abuse of prescription painkillers has become a national epidemic, adding  “more people are now actually experiencing fatal overdoses due to opiod use than heroin and cocaine combined.”

The study findings are in the July issue of the medical journal “Mayo Clinic Proceedings.”

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