Emergency Department Treatment of Nonmedical Narcotic Use

Emergency Department Treatment of Nonmedical Narcotic Use

Narcotic pain relievers provide relief and have important medical benefits. When they are used other than for their medical intent, they can have serious health consequences. They are often taken without medical supervision, in quantities other than prescribed and sometimes in combination with alcohol or other drugs.

The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) provides monitoring of drug-related emergency department visits in the United States. In 2008, nonmedical use of pain relievers was a leading form of drug abuse in the United States among persons aged 12 years or older, second only to the use of marijuana.

Narcotics, or opioids, are pain relievers that are chemically derived from opium. DAWN reports use of the drug when it is being taken differently than prescribed by a doctor.

In 2008, the rate of admissions for the nonmedical use of narcotics pain relievers rose 111 percent, from 144,644 to 305,885. Both male and female patients doubled, as did cases of patients younger than 21 and those 21 and older.

There was also an increase of particular types of narcotics used for nonmedical purposes, including oxycodone products, hydrcodone products, methadone, morphine products, fentanyl products and hydromorphone products.

Emergency department visits related to oxycodone products increased by 152 percent. Hydrocodone products were increasingly used by 123 percent and methadone was increased by 73 percent. Hydromorphone showed the largest increase at 259 percent, but the number of visits related to hydromorphone was minor relatively compared to the other types of narcotics used.

The results reported by DAWN show that between 2004 and 2008 there was a significant difference in the number of medical emergencies that were related to nonmedical use of narcotics. Visits related to certain types of narcotic pain relievers, such as hydromorphone, increased dramatically over the course of the study.

Over the five year period of DAWN monitoring, it is clear that nonmedical use of narcotic pain relievers is a growing problem. Six major types of narcotic pain relievers showed significant increases, indicating that narcotics are widely misused.

The findings of the study show that there is a need for increased education about the misuse of narcotic pain relievers. Individuals prescribed the narcotic need to be cautioned about the risk of dependence and signs of an increased tolerance level to the drugs.

In addition, medical personnel need to be educated on how to watch for signs that a person may be misusing their narcotic pain reliever. Careful monitoring is needed for patients on narcotics to prevent the misuse or overdose of opioids.

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