Most people assume that if a doctor prescribes a prescription drug, it is safe to take. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), however, 46 Americans die every day after overdosing on prescription painkillers. CDC statistics also indicate that drug overdose death rates for all drug types have more than tripled since 1990, with the majority of these fatalities caused by prescription drugs. In fact, over half of the 41,340 drug overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2011 were associated with prescriptions drugs.
The extremely high rate of deaths associated with prescription painkillers has led to strict regulations that require doctors to follow specific procedures before prescribing these powerful painkillers to their patients. Practitioners who fail to follow these procedures can face both civil and criminal penalties. The CDC’s guidelines require physicians to observe the following precautions:
• Instruct patients on the proper dosage, use, and storage of their
• Ask patients questions about any history of mental illness or substance abuse
• Reduce the quantity of pills per prescription
• Limit the number of refills per prescription
• When appropriate, prescribe alternate therapies, such as physical therapy and exercise
Additionally, a majority of states, including Arkansas, have enacted prescription drug monitoring programs designed to decrease painkiller abuse and keep a careful watch on “pain clinics” or “pill mills” known for overprescribing. The CDC reports that the amount of painkiller prescriptions has declined in several states with drug monitoring programs. In New York, for example, the state saw a 75 percent drop in patients who saw multiple prescribers for the same drugs one year after lawmakers enacted a prescription drug monitoring program. Arkansas’s program was created in 2011 and features an electronic database of prescribing, dispensing, and use information for a variety of controlled substances.