(NaturalNews) Abuse of prescription painkillers continues to rise, according to a study conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
"We urgently need to take action," CDC Director Thomas Frieden said. "These prescription medicines help many people, but we need to be sure they are used properly and safely."
Emergency room visits for non-medical use of prescription painkillers have now reached a level equal to those for illicit drug use, the study found, using data from the SAMHSA Drug Abuse Warning Network. Such visits increased 111 percent between 2004 and 2008, from 144, 644 to 305,885. The increases were seen across all age and gender categories.
Emergency room visits associated with all painkillers increased, which doctors attribute in part to increasing prescription rates of those drugs across the United States. The drugs responsible for the most emergency room visits were oxycodone, hyrdrocodone and methadone, with other painkillers such as morphine, fentanyl and hydromorphone following close behind.
Nonmedical use of oxycodone was responsible for 105,214 visits in 2008, an increase of 152 percent over 2004. Hydrocodone-related emergency room visits increased 123 percent, to 89,051, and methadone-related visits increased 73 percent, to 63,629.
This surge in emergency room visits is actually straining an already overburdened U.S. health care system, Hyde warned.
"This public health threat requires an all-out effort to raise awareness of the public about proper use, storage, and disposal of these powerful drugs," Hyde said.
According to government statistics, prescription opioid abuse causes 13,000 deaths per year.
The growing epidemic of painkiller abuse has led pharmaceutical companies to research less addictive alternatives. The FDA recently approved an addiction-thwarting painkiller, Embeda, by King Pharmaceuticals. Another new painkiller, Acurox, is pending approval, but FDA advisers have urged that the drug be rejected.