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Painkiller misconceptions can be deadly

In a special consumer report issued in July 2014, researchers revealed the dangers and misconceptions of painkiller abuse. According to the report, prescriptions have increased 300% in the last 10 years, with Vicodin and Hydrocodone listed as the most commonly prescribed narcotics in America.

Along with an increase in prescriptions comes an increase in dangers and misconceptions. In this summary of the report, we’ll bust some of the myths surrounding painkiller use.

MYTH: “Prescription opioids work well for chronic pain.”

FACT: While prescription narcotics can manage pain they can also be highly addictive. Alternatives such as acupuncture, over the counter medications, exercise, massage and behavioral therapy can all be used instead of drugs to eliminate the possibility of addiction or abuse.

MYTH: “Opioids aren’t addictive when used for pain.”

FACT: It’s estimated that between 5-25% of people who use Rx painkillers become addicted.

MYTH: “Extended release medications are safer.”

FACT: Extended release painkillers may be stronger, but they stay in the body longer and are often prescribed solely for convenience. There is no actual evidence that extended release medications are safer or work any better. However, because of the higher potency they are more prone to be abused.

MYTH: “OTC painkillers can’t cause any damage.”

FACT:  Acetaminophen, commonly known as Tylenol, can be used as an over-the-counter solution for managing pain. However, 80,000 people a year are treated in emergency rooms for overdose or liver-related problems. Though the FDA has lowered the maximum per-pill dosage amount for the prescription version, acetaminophen is still the most common cause of liver failure.

According to the report, a higher dose of acetaminophen doesn’t reduce the pain any better than the recommended dosage, which could be different from brand to brand. Unlike the prescription version, there is no standard dosage suggestion for OTC medications making it easy to ingest more than the 4,000 mg a day responsible for liver damage.

Acetaminophen is an active ingredient in 600 OTC drugs, making it very easy to overdose and not know it. For example, taking certain types of Tylenol twice daily along with NyQuil can equate to 6,000 mg, which can cause liver damage and eventually liver failure over time. (See infographic below)

Photo credit: Consumer Reports
Photo credit: Consumer Reports

The truth about overdose

Drug overdose is responsible for 17,000 deaths a year, or 46 deaths per day. Painkillers can be extremely dangerous when mixed with alcohol or sleeping pills or when the user has any form of sleep apnea, bronchitis or asthma. Signs of liver damage include pale stools, dark urine, upper right abdominal pain and a yellowish tinge to the whites of the eyes.

When prescribed pills or even when taking OTC meds, it’s important to know how much you’re ingesting, what the side effects are and how they can affect your body in the long term. For more information regarding this report, see the original article in the source listed below.

Source: http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/magazine/2014/09/the-dangers-of-painkillers/index.htm