Opiate Overdose

Patients who take high doses of opioid painkillers are at a higher risk for fatal overdose, according to a new study. These drugs include OxyContin, Vicodin and Percocet and are used to treat moderate to severe pain. They also have the potential to be habit forming and to lead to abuse. These medications are narcotics and are extremely powerful. People can take them safely, and the study reports that people who take them on an as-needed basis are not at an increased risk for opioid overdose.

The study was published April 6 in the Journal of the American Medical Association. It says the rate of unintentional overdose deaths between 1999 and 2007 increased by 124 percent in the U.S. The study said this can be largely attributed to the increase in prescription opioid overdoses. The increased rate of this type of overdose is both "troubling" and "dramatic," according to the study.

Researchers looked at VA data on 750 accidental opioid overdose deaths between 2004 and 2008. They also took into account a random sample of about 155,000 patients who used opioids for pain relief in either 2004 or 2005. The rate of overdose among patients treated with opioids was 0.04 percent, according to the study.

Profile of Those More Likely to Die From Opioid Overdose

Patients who suffered a fatal opioid overdose were more likely to fall into these categories, the study said:

  • Middle aged
  • White
  • Acute pain sufferers
  • Chronic pain sufferers
  • People with substance use disorders
  • People with psychiatric diagnoses

It also said these patients were less likely to have cancer.

Taking More Than 100 Milligrams a Day Can Put You at Risk

Patients in the study who were taking a higher maximum daily dose of an opioid (100 milligrams a day or more) were more likely to suffer an overdose than those people who were taking a lower maximum daily dose of an opioid (between 1 and 20 milligrams a day).

The study goes on to say that, "The risk of opioid overdose should continue to be evaluated relative to the need to reduce pain and suffering and be considered along with other risk factors."