June National Safety Month Week 1- Prescription Drug Overdose

June 2014 National Safety Month Tips Week 1

Prescription drug overdoses are one of the fastest growing causes of injury deaths. According to CDC, more than 15,000 people die annually from overdoses of prescription medicines. Prescription pain relievers contribute to more deaths than all illegal drugs like heroin and cocaine.

Most fatal drug overdoses result from pain relief medications also known as opioid analgesics. Opioids include: oxycodone, methadone, hydrocodone, fentanyl and buprenorphine. Mixing prescription pain medication with alcohol and/or over-the-counter pain medications increases the risk of a fatal overdose.

  • Among people 35 to 54 years old, unintentional drug overdoses cause more deaths than motor vehicle crashes.
  • More than 70 percent of people who abused prescription pain relievers report getting them from friends or relatives.
  • In 2010, more than 400,000 emergency room visits were made related to prescription pain relievers.
  • Nonmedical use of prescription painkillers costs health insurers up to $72.5 billion annually in direct health care costs.

National Safety Council is launching a new strategic initiative to confront this crisis on a national level. Strong public-private partnerships are needed. Learn more about how you can join with NSC and other leaders to prevent injuries and deaths from prescription medicines.

More and more Americans are turning to prescription and over-the-counter medications for pain relief. These medications are easily accessible. They can make recovery from surgery less painful as well as ease many ailments from a chronic sore back to a cough and cold.

However, overdoses of prescription medicine are on the rise. Most fatal unintentional overdoses result from pain relief medications also known as opioid analgesics. Opioids include: oxycodone, methadone, hydrocodone, fentanyl and buprenorphine. Mixing prescription pain medication with alcohol and/or over-the-counter pain medications can also result in a fatal unintentional overdose.

  • Among people 35 to 54 years old, unintentional drug overdoses cause more deaths than motor vehicle crashes and is the leading cause of death in seven States.
  • More than 70 percent of people who abused prescription pain relievers report getting them from friends or relatives.
  • Although males are more likely to die from an unintentional drug overdose, female rates have nearly tripled since 1999 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

In addition to the risk of overdose, over-the-counter, prescription medications and illicit drugs, can affect a person’s ability to safely drive a motor vehicle or operate machinery.

What puts someone at risk for an unintentional overdose

Higher daily dosage: Researchers found that high doses of prescribed opioids increase a person’s risk of an unintentional overdose. Never take more than is prescribed. If you still have pain, call your physician to discuss your options.

Early refills of prescriptions: Patients should wait until their pain medication prescription is almost empty before refilling – and only if it is really needed.

Taking medication with alcohol or sedatives: Mixing opioids with alcohol or benzodiazepines (helps with sleep, relieves anxiety) increases a person’s risk of an unintentional overdose.

Drug interactions: Mixing drugs, including prescription, over-the-counter and supplements may cause mild to severe reactions including death. Keep a record of the medications and supplements you are currently taking, including over-the-counter and supplements.

Prevent unintentional drug overdoses:

  • Use medications only as directed by your physician.
  • Always follow the recommended dosage prescribed by your physician.
  • Keep medications in their original container.
  • Don’t share prescribed medications.
  • Properly dispose of any unused or expired medications. Find out how you can safely dispose of medications.
  • Talk with your physician or pharmacist for possible drug interactions. You also can check for interactions on the drugs you are taking at DrugDigest.org, Drugstore.com or at the Mayo Clinic.


Every second counts. If you suspect someone may have overdosed, call 9-1-1 immediately. Although they may look as if they are sleeping, they may actually be unconscious. After calling 9-1-1, move the person into the recovery position and be prepared for CPR.

Sometimes, if not used correctly or not use as prescribed, use of pain killers can lead to drug dependency and misuse. If you or someone you know needs help for substance abuse problems call 1-800-662-HELP or talk to a physician. Effective treatments are available.

Additional Resources

Food and Drug Administration

  • My Medicine Record: Keep track of all you medications. Have this list handy for your doctor, pharmacist or other health care professional.
  • Safe Use Initiative: prevent harm from medications.

Centers for Disease Control:

Nearly 15,000 people die every year of overdoses involving prescription painkillers.Pills In 2010, 1 in 20 people in the US (age 12 or older) reported using prescription painkillers for nonmedical reasons in the past year.Enough prescription painkillers were prescribed in 2010 to medicate every American adult around-the-clock for a month. Deaths from prescription painkillers* have reached epidemic levels in the past decade. The number of overdose deaths is now greater than those of deaths from heroin and cocaine combined. A big part of the problem is nonmedical use of prescription painkillers—using drugs without a prescription, or using drugs just for the “high” they cause. In 2010, about 12 million Americans (age 12 or older) reported nonmedical use of prescription painkillers in the past year.

Enough prescription painkillers were prescribed in 2010 to medicate every American adult around-the-clock for a month. Although most of these pills were prescribed for a medical purpose, many ended up in the hands of people who misused or abused them.Improving the way prescription painkillers are prescribed can reduce the number of people who misuse, abuse or overdose from these powerful drugs, while making sure patients have access to safe, effective treatment.

* “Prescription painkillers” refers to opioid or narcotic pain relievers, including drugs such as Vicodin (hydrocodone), OxyContin (oxycodone), Opana (oxymorphone), and methadone


Prescription Drugs Are Everywhere

Almost four billion prescription drugs are dispensed every year, and many Americans take five or more prescription drugs a day. Understand how to use, store and dispose of powerful prescription and non-prescription (OTC or over-the-counter) medicines. Get smart about avoiding misuse and learn why abuse of legal drugs is now becoming a major problem. Consumers and health care professionals can now go to a single page on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Web site to find a wide variety of safety information about prescription drugs.

The Web page, www.fda.gov/cder/drugSafety.htm provides links to information.

Safe Habits to Have

Every day you make choices that can either contribute to or detract from your long-term health. Choose wisely. Here are simple, practical habits to have to reduce the risks related to the use of prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs.

Tell your life story.Tell your doctor about all your health conditions and all your medications, including OTC drugs, herbal products and dietary supplements such as vitamins. These can potentially cause side effects and interactions with prescription drugs. Make an updated list and bring it to your appointments, or bring all your pill bottles with you. (Access for your detailed prescription records can be found at www.medcohealth.com ) or call Medco Member Services at 1-800-849-9410
Ask lots of questions.Discuss the necessity for a particular drug with your doctor and also ask about non-drug treatment options. Be sure you understand all the potential side effects and the medical risks before choosing a drug treatment.
Take care with OTC painkillers.Different brands of painkillers often include the same ingredients, such as ibuprofen. For example, Advil®, Motrin®, and Midol® Cramps all include ibuprofen. Do not combine different products that contain the same ingredients. And do not take more of a medication than the label recommends. If the medicine does not control your pain, consult your doctor. OTC painkillers can have harmful side effects (such as internal bleeding) if taken excessively.
Make friends with your pharmacist. Next to your doctor, your pharmacist is the most important person in your medical life. Make sure he or she knows your conditions, allergies and everything you’re taking. Medication errors can and do happen, so always double check labels and pills when picking up prescriptions.
Keep all drugs safe.Keep both prescription and OTC drugs out of common areas. One-third of all accidental drug poisonings in children involve a grandparent’s medication. And be sure to track how much you have left, so you know if someone it was not intended for is taking any.
Know that bathrooms are bad. Ironically, bathrooms and kitchens are the worst storage places for drugs, which need to be kept cool and dry. Humidity, heat and light can affect the medication’s potency and safety. A high dresser drawer is a better place to keep them.
Talk to your kids. For kids, there’s a lot of pressure to experiment with drugs. And today the drugs of choice are prescription or OTC because they’re easy to find at home, through friends and on the Internet. Young people view them as “safe” because they’re legal and prescribed by doctors. So talk with your kids about what’s out there and how misuse or abuse of “legal” drugs can be dangerous and potentially fatal.
Be careful with children’s medicine.Never give OTC children’s cough and cold medicines to children under 2 years of age. Also do not give children medicine that is packaged and made for adults. Only your doctor can approve their use. Check fda.gov for updated information.
Do right by antibiotics. Antibiotics are effective against bacteria (strep throat is a bacterial infection), but ineffective against the viruses that commonly cause the cold, flu or coughs. So don’t expect that a prescription antibiotic will always make you feel better. And when you do take an antibiotic, always finish it as prescribed. Overuse or not finishing a prescribed dose helps create antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria. Learn more about antibiotic resistance at www.cdc.org.
Beware of the Internet.Many online pharmacies work in legal grey areas, with no patient consultation and unclear drug quality controls. Consumers should check with their State Board of Pharmacy or the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy to see if the online pharmacy possesses a valid pharmacy license and has met state quality standards. Check fda.gov for detailed information.
Take it the right way.Always take medicines – prescription or OTC – as directed and do not take more or less than the doctor ordered or the package recommends. Know what time of day you should take it, how much to take at a time, and how often you should take it. Take exactly the amount prescribed, including refills, and do not stop without consulting your physician. Some long-acting medicines are absorbed too quickly when broken up, so don’t chew, crush or open capsules or split tablets unless instructed. When giving liquid medication, use only the included measuring device as household spoons are not very accurate.
Get to the root of the problem.Taking medication is often appropriate, but it doesn’t always solve the health problem. Take pills when they’re really needed, but make lifestyle changes as well – things like exercising, eating healthy and reducing stress.
Remember, all drugs are drugs.Non-prescription medicines are still drugs. In fact, many OTC drugs are the same as prescription drugs, just in smaller concentrations. So keep track of dosages and side effects just like you would with prescription drugs. And you need to safely store them away from small children or curious teenagers. Remember, just like prescription drugs, OTC misuse and abuse can be dangerous and possibly even fatal.
Dispose of all unused and outdated drugs. Check with your local pharmacy or health department for local disposal options. At the very least, remove drugs from their packaging and disperse them throughout your trash, making them unappealing to retrieve. Learn about proper drug disposal at whitehousedrugpolicy.gov.


Prescription Drug Abuse

1. What is the fifth-most common reason for all physician visits in the United States?

a. Carpal tunnel syndrome

b. Lower back pain

c. Sprained ankles

d. Migraine headaches

2. If you suspect someone has overdosed on prescription drugs and the victim is

unresponsive, call:

a. 911

b. The Poison Control Center

c. The victims physician

3. True or False: The safest way to dispose of leftover or unused drugs is to flush them

down the sink.

4. Common on-the-job behaviors that may indicate a prescription painkiller problem


a. Increased job productivity

b. Lack of attention or focus

c. Poor judgment

d. B and C

5. True or False: Smokers have an increased vulnerability to back pain than non-smokers


Information from NSC, CDC, FDA, Medic First Aid, NM Attorney General’s Office and NIOSH

Today’s post comes to us courtesy of Ken Oswald, Safety and Security Manager for Plateau