05:02am Sunday 23 February 2020

National Safety Council: Opioid prescription painkillers have hidden, deadly side effects

Itasca, IL – Today the National Safety Council released a white paper, The psychological and physical side effects of pain medications, debunking the belief that opioid painkillers, such as Vicodin and Oxycontin, are safer options than over-the-counter pain relievers.

“More Americans overdose on prescription painkillers than on heroin and cocaine combined,” said Deborah A.P. Hersman, president and CEO of NSC. “Yet, these medications are marketed as the Cadillac option for treating pain. If doctors and their patients understand the risks and side effects, they can discuss safer, more effective options. Without an honest dialogue, we’ll continue to see a cycle of addiction and overdose that has made opioid painkiller use a public health crisis.”

Some of the hidden side effects of opioid painkillers include rapidly developing addiction, withdrawal, constipation, permanent changes to brain chemistry, nausea, respiratory depression, increased sensitivity to pain, driving impairment and decreased sex drive. Opioid painkillers account for about $55.6 billion in societal costs each year, including worker’s compensation, employee productivity, patient care and crime.

Risk of death and unintentional injury is particularly high for elderly adults taking opioid painkillers. Elderly adults taking opioid painkillers are 68 percent more likely to be hospitalized, 87 percent more likely to die, have four times as many bone fractures as those taking over-the-counter pain medication.

Doctors often prescribe opioid painkillers to elderly adults because they are widely believed to be easier on their stomachs than over-the-counter pain relievers. In reality, research shows elderly adults taking opioid painkillers have an equal risk of gastrointestinal bleeding as those taking over-the-counterdrugs..  

A full copy of the white paper can be downloaded at safety.nsc.org/sideeffects. Media may request a PDF version at media@nsc.org.

About the National Safety Council

Founded in 1913 and chartered by Congress, the National Safety Council, nsc.org, is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to save lives by preventing injuries and deaths at work, in homes and communities, and on the roads through leadership, research, education and advocacy. NSC advances this mission by partnering with businesses, government agencies, elected officials and the public in areas that can make the most impact – distracted driving, teen driving, workplace safety, prescription drug overdoses and Safe Communities.

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