The death of pop legend Prince and the mounting suspicions that his death may have been caused by an overdose of prescription opioid medication is bringing attention to the increasing problem of opioid overdoses among people in his age group, Prince was 57.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) people age 45 to 64 are at highest risk for opioid overdose, the middle age group represents in excess of forty percent of all drug overdoses in the United States in the calendar year 2013 to 2014. Most of these deaths are accidental and occur in people who may have had an injury of some sort and were prescribed opioids to help relieve chronic pain. There are many different circumstances that can occur that may bring about an accidental overdose of opioid medication or illicit drugs.
One of the most common instances of accidental overdose is that the person has been taking an opioid for a long period of time and has built up a resistance to the drug and decides to try an alternative pain reliever to try to achieve the same amount of pain relief they once got from the other medication. When they rotate pain relievers, typically mimicking the same dosage of the drug they previously were taking, they are at high risk of overdosing because their body is not accustomed to the new drug and has not built a tolerance for it. Likewise when they stop taking the alternative medication to return to the one they were taking previously and return to the same dosage as when they stopped taking it, the tolerance is no longer present and they may accidentally overdose.
Another high risk scenario is people who are taking opioids for pain relief in combination with benzodiazepines for anxiety. There are significant numbers of middle-aged people with chronic health conditions for which their physicians are prescribing opioids for pain and benzodiazepines for anxiety who live alone either due to the empty nest, divorce or death of a spouse. Both of these types of drugs can depress the body’s autonomic nervous system that unconsciously prompts us to breathe. When the combination of these two drugs suppresses the autonomic response to breathe death can occur, in particular when there is no one present to revive the victim.
What Measures Are Being Taken To Reduce Drug Overdoses
Due to the soaring number of overdose deaths in America, Washington and state legislatures are paying great attention to the problem of prescription pain medication addiction and the rise of heroin use across America. Legislation is being passed by states to make drugs like naloxone, an overdose rescue drug readily available to heroin addicts and on school campuses to counteract drug overdoses, as well as drugs such as methadone to assist opioid addicted people to overcome their addiction safely.
Because opioids are of such an addictive nature there is a strong push nationwide to re-educate physicians on the dangers of prescribing opioids to patients with chronic pain. And there are new oversight regulations on the number of prescriptions for narcotic and all controlled substances doctors are allowed to prescribe (without be flagged for investigation) in an effort to eliminate pill mill type practices that were so prevalent only a few years ago.
The other national push is to bring opioid addiction out of the closet and to educate patients and the public at large as to the inherent dangers of opioid use and the treatment tools available to those who need help to successfully cease the use of opioids. If you suspect you may have an addiction to opioids you should consult your prescribing physician immediately to seek proper medical care in detoxing safely from the drug(s). You should not abruptly stop taking your medication on your own as there can be serious medical complications from withdrawal from the drug(s), seek guided professional medical assistance.