Increasing numbers of Americans are being prescribed powerful opiate painkillers during emergency room visits, a new study has found. Between 2001 and 2010, emergency departments in the United States showed a 49 percent increase in prescriptions for narcotic painkillers despite the fact that there was only a small increase in the percentage of visits for painful conditions.
The study, published in the journal Academic Emergency Medicine, found that in 2010, 31 percent of ER visits involved a narcotic painkiller prescription, up from about 21 percent in 2001.
These increases were seen for conditions including abdominal pain, back pain, headache, joint and muscle pain, and toothaches.
In addition, the study found that hydromorphone and oxycodone had the greatest increase in ER administration between 2005 and 2010, while oxycodone and hydrocodone had the greatest increases in discharge prescriptions.
About 12 million Americans abused prescription painkillers in 2010, while roughly 15,000 Americans die annually from overdosing on such drugs, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.