Prescription opioids (otherwise known as narcotics) are a subcategory of analgesics, which are pharmaceuticals that relieve pain. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA),"[Opioids] reduce the intensity of pain signals reaching the brain and affect those brain areas controlling emotion, which diminishes the effects of a painful stimulus." Opioids can be dangerous if misused or abused. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), opioids caused more than 42,000 deaths in 2016, the highest number of opioid-related-deaths to date.
Additionally, the CDC states nearly two million Americans were dependent on or abused prescription opioids in 2014. Each day, almost 1,000 people are treated in emergency departments for using these drugs in a manner other than as directed. In recent years there has been a dramatic increase in the acceptance and use of prescription opioids for the treatment of chronic, non-cancer pain, such as back pain or osteoarthritis. The United States is in the midst of a prescription painkiller overdose epidemic, due at least in part to the over-prescribing of opiate medications by health care practitioners.
NPDS statistical analyses indicate that all analgesic exposures including opioids and sedatives are increasing year over year. This trend is shown in Table 17b and Figure 5 in the 2019 NPDS annual report. NPDS data mirror CDC data that demonstrates similar findings.
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SIGNS OF OVERDOSE
Small, constricted “pinpoint” pupils
Falling asleep or loss of consciousness
Slow, shallow breathing
Choking or gurgling sounds
Limp body and pale, blue, or cold skin