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Promises’ Dr. David Sack Tells CBS News That Doctors Share in Blame for Huge Spike in Prescription Drug Deaths

Deaths from prescription painkiller overdoses among women have increased more than 400% since 1999, the Centers for Disease Control reported July 2. In fact, every three minutes a woman goes to the emergency room for prescription painkiller use or abuse.

“The big picture is that this is a big problem that has gotten much worse quickly,” Dr. Thomas Frieden, head of the CDC, told the Associated Press. The death rate for men from prescription painkillers was up 265 percent since 1999.

Officials with the CDC said that because women are more likely to have chronic pain, be prescribed prescription painkillers, be given higher doses, and use them for longer time periods than men, they are most at risk for overdose. The agency urged doctors to take advantage of  prescription drug monitoring programs to identify patients who may be improperly obtaining or using painkillers such as Vicodin, OxyContin, Opana and methadone, noting that women are more likely than men to “doctor shop” for narcotics.

Dr. David Sack, CEO of Promises Treatment Centers, told CBSNews.com that doctors are prescribing these opioid painkillers too freely. While 40 years ago many physicians held off on giving out pain medication, in the 1970s many medical professionals saw how these narcotics could help treat pain in people like cancer patients.

“There was a push for a better job of treating all forms of chronic pain,” Dr. Sack told CBS. “It was a very big initiative around the U.S. and the world.”

In addition to the over-prescribing of prescription painkillers, the mistaken belief that they are safer than street drugs has also contributed to the skyrocketing death rate.  Making matters worse, since many prescription narcotics are respiratory depressants, and many people who abuse them use them in conjunction with other depressants like alcohol or sedative hypnotics like Xanax or Ambien, it can lead to negative consequences — possibly death, Dr. Sack said.

“It’s kind of the Heath Ledger phenomenon,” Dr. Sack said. “Even though any one of them are not enough to cause an overdose, two or three of theme together is enough.”

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