Despite continued enforcement and education efforts, prescription drug-related deaths have continued to rise. According to new 2010 data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, deaths increased 3 percent in 2010 and have likely increased in 2011 according to preliminary data. Prescription painkillers comprised 43 percent of all fatal overdoses and caused over 16,000 deaths in 2010.
CDC director Tom Frieden told the Los Angeles Times the results are disappointing: “While most things are getting better in the health world, this isn’t. It’s a big problem, and it’s getting worse.” Frieden stressed that the data supporting long-term use of opiates for pain “is scant to nonexistent,” and he called the drugs “dangerous.” The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is considering proposals that would drastically limit the prescription of prescription painkillers. Doctors would only be able to prescribe the pills to non-cancer patients for 90 days or less and only if a patient suffers from severe pain.
Some doctors are concerned about scrutiny of their medical decisions to prescribe pills, but Frieden emphasized that the pills harm people: “You’re free to practice medicine however you want. But you’re not free to do things that hurt people.”
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