Report: N.J. Hospitals Treating More Patients For Prescription Drug Overdose

addictHospitals have been treating far more patients who wind up in the emergency room for overdosing on prescription painkillers than they did a decade ago, according to the first national survey of hospitals in the nation. The people who needed urgent care because they took too many sedatives, painkillers and tranquilizers rose by 65 percent between 1999 and 2006, according to an article in next month’s issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. At the same time, hospitalizations due to an overdose of illegal drugs or other substances rose 33 percent.

“Deaths and hospitalizations associated with prescription drug misuse have reached epidemic proportions,’’ said Jeffrey Coben, the lead author of the study. “It is essential health care providers, pharmacists, insurance providers, state and federal agencies and the general public all work together to address this crisis.’’

In New Jersey, the problem appears to be just as acute.

The number of unintentional deaths caused by an overdose of painkillers in New Jersey rose from 91 in 2004 to a high of 215 in 2007, according to statistics from the Office of State Medical Examiner. There were 184 deaths last year.

The New Jersey Poison Control Center took 1,288 calls from hospital emergency rooms last year treating patients who overdosed on painkillers, an 80 percent increase from the 716 calls the center received 10 years ago, said Steven Marcus, the poison center’s executive and medical director.

Hospitals have reported 9,447 unintentional overdoses to the poison control center over the past decade, Marcus said. State-by-state data on prescription drug overdoses were not available in the survey.

Many people assume most cases of drug overdose involve illegal narcotics such as cocaine or heroin, Marcus said. “We still get those — that problem has not gone away,’’ he said. But most people rushed to a hospital for drug overdose have taken legal painkillers prescribed by a doctor. “The suburban community is heavily into abusing prescription drugs.’’  

Prescription drug abuse is rising among men and women of all ages, as well as youth, Marcus said. The greatest increase in overdoses has occurred among middle-aged people, and women especially, Marcus said.

Doctors, pharmacists and the state agencies that regulate prescription drugs could be more vigilant, with the help of technology.

“In some states, some physicians can look up patient’s name and see he has been to several places to get a prescription,” Marcus said. “In New Jersey, we’re not even close to that.’’ Star Ledger

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