Tag Archives: painkillers

New tip sheet gives guidance for reporting on opioid use among the aging

Photo: Sharyn Morrow via Flickr

Photo: Sharyn Morrow via Flickr

Opioid addiction is at crisis levels in the United States. Over two million people are addicted to opioids, which include prescription painkillers, heroin and morphine. The total number of opioid pain relievers prescribed in the U.S. has skyrocketed in the past 25 years.

Data from the American Society of Pain Medicine (ASPM) indicate that of the 21.5 million Americans age 12 years or older who had a substance use disorder in 2014, 1.9 million involved prescription pain relievers.

The trend has led to more emergency department admissions and a tripling of overdose deaths. Continue reading

While heroin use grabs headlines, don’t forget coverage of prescription pain meds

Recent Associated Press coverage of opioid pain medications, combined with new government data, serve as a reminder that opioids continue to be a scourge for public health officials looking to tamp down misuse of the drugs.

They help highlight the need for reporters not to lose sight of the ongoing efforts to control these powerful pills even as rising heroin use captures more of the headlines. Continue reading

Network drives increase in painkiller prescriptions

In the latest installment of his ongoing investigation for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and MedPage Today, John Fauber looks for the source of America’s prescription painkiller boom (graphic), outlining what he describes as “a network of pain organizations, doctors and researchers that pushed for expanded use of the drugs while taking in millions of dollars from the companies that made them.”pills-and-money

Beginning 15 years ago, the network helped create a body of dubious information that can be found in prescribing guidelines, patient literature, position statements, books and doctor education courses, all which favored drugs known as opioid analgesics.

Apparently, that network has been effective. Federal data shows that prescription painkiller sales have quadrupled in the past decade or so, Fauber found, and some of those sales may not have been warranted.

A band of doctors who get little or no money from opioid makers has begun to challenge the hype behind the drugs. They say pharmaceutical industry clout has caused doctors to go overboard in prescribing the drugs, leading to addiction, thousands of overdose deaths each year and other serious complications.

Several of the pain industry’s core beliefs about chronic pain and opioids are not supported by sound research, the Journal Sentinel/MedPage Today investigation found. Among them:

  • The risk of addiction is low in patients with prescriptions.
  • There is no unsafe maximum dose of the drugs.
  • The concept of “pseudoaddiction.”

That concept holds those who display addictive behavior, such as seeking more drugs or higher doses, may not be actual addicts – they are people who need even more opioids to treat their pain.

His investigation dips deep into each of those beliefs and how they helped push painkillers. For a case study, see this companion infographic.

Drug-funded research group failed to disclose ties to makers of painkillers

In his latest conflict of interest investigation, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter John Fauber takes on a challenge that, even by his standards, is an ambitious one.

Photo by somegeekintn via Flickr.

He attempts to show the effect pharmaceutical money and the local researchers who received it had on national opinions toward powerful prescription painkillers and how it all influenced the American epidemic of opiate abuse.

He focuses on the University of Wisconsin Pain and Policy Studies Group, which has received millions from painkiller manufacturers while publishing drug-friendly research and warning against increased regulation of OxyContin and its ilk. Many of these millions, Fauber found, appear not to have been disclosed in relevant publications even as the group was paving the way for the rapid rise of painkiller prescriptions in America.

The drugs had initially been approved for a very narrow range of uses, but became extremely popular as off-label use for the management of chronic pain spread like wildfire. It’s not easy to draw clean lines between the Wisconsin group and off-label use, but Fauber’s deft investigative work and careful sourcing make a strong case.


Read more of Fauber’s work

Reporter examines W.Va.’s drug epidemic

The Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette‘s Alison Knezevich has geared an in-depth series around the fact that West Virginia has the highest rate of drug deaths in the nation. The overwhelming majority of those drug deaths involved prescription drugs.

In subsequent stories, Knezevich shifted her focus from the abusers to the medical community, beginning with those gatekeepers whose prescription pads are constant reminders that “nearly two-thirds of West Virginians who misuse pain relievers get them from friends or relatives for free.”

The tightrope walk between managing real pain and supplying addicts is such an exhausting one that some doctors fear employment in rural West Virginia clinics. It’s a dilemma faced even by those physicians who specialize in rehab, thanks to a newly popular brand-name drug for recovering addicts.