More and more Americans are being prescribed powerful narcotic drugs when they visit the emergency department for problems such as low back pain or a pounding headache, a new study finds.
Between 2001 and 2010, emergency departments in the United States showed a 49 percent increase in prescriptions for narcotic painkillers -- also known as opiates. That was despite the fact that there was only a small increase in the percentage of visits for painful conditions.
Experts said the trend is concerning because narcotic painkillers -- which include drugs like OxyContin, Percocet and Vicodin -- can be addictive, or abused by people with existing drug problems. And while the drugs may be necessary for more-severe pain, ER doctors see many patients who can stick with over-the-counter pain relievers.
"In many cases, naproxen, Tylenol (acetaminophen) and ibuprofen are the best choices," said Dr. Ryan Stanton, an ER doctor in Lexington, Ky., and spokesman for the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP).
Stanton, who was not involved in the study, said the findings "are not shocking."
"This is reflective of the growing use of opiates across the board, not just in emergency medicine," Stanton said.