Counting the cost of long-term use of common drugs

Counting the cost of long-term use of common drugs

The perils of painkillers

Painkillers accounted for two-thirds of all drug-induced deaths in Australia in 2016, according to data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). And the long-term use of common drugs can have serious side effects.

In its most recent report, the ABS found that almost 70 per cent of drug-related deaths in Australia in 2016 were caused by prescription drugs.

Benzodiazepines, a drug commonly prescribed for anxiety, accounts for 37 per cent of that number. Codeine, morphine and oxycodone are claiming 500 lives a year, up from 189 in 2003.

And there are fears that Australians already addicted to over-the-counter painkillers may move to harder drugs when new restrictions come into force next year. From March, products such as Nurofen Plus, Panadeine, Mersyndol and Codral will be available only with a prescription.

With studies claiming that one in three Australians aged 65-plus is living with chronic pain, and many are taking opioids, the dangers of drug abuse and overdosing are clear.

Chronic pain is persistent pain anywhere in the body and can be caused by any of a wide range of conditions including diabetes, arthritis and damaged nerves.

Over many months, chronic pain can cause depression and have a detrimental effect on the body’s immune system, so painkillers are important. But over what period of time can these products be taken safely?

Opioids have long been recognised as addictive, but the findings of a new UK study released this month show that common painkillers also increase the risk of obesity and sleep disorders.

Experts at Newcastle University found that painkillers, such as gabapentinoids and opiates, doubled the risk of obesity and were associated with poor sleep. The study of more than 133,000 participants found that people on opiates and cardio-metabolic drugs reported 95 per cent rates of obesity as opposed to those on cardio-metabolic drugs only.

Dr Sophie Cassidy, Research Associate at the Institute of Cellular Medicine at Newcastle University, said: “In the last two decades there has been a significant increase in the number of people being prescribed both opioid and non-opioid medications to treat chronic pain.

“We already know that opiates are dependency-forming, but this study also found patients taking opiates have the worst health. Obesity rates are much higher and the patients reported sleeping poorly.

“These results add further weight to calls for these chronic pain medications to be prescribed for shorter periods."

The link between opioids and obesity was linked to the fact that they acted as a sedative which means patients were less active. They have also been shown to alter taste perception so the user craves sugar and sweet foods.

Opioids are also known to worsen snoring and untreated sleep apnoea, as well as causing problems with nocturnal hypertension.

Dr Suzanne Neilsen, from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC), said that the increase in the number of pharmaceutical opioid-related deaths in the past decade was fuelling fears that Australia was headed down the same road as the United States, where opioid addiction had become a national emergency.

So what can you do if you are taking these painkillers?
Talk about your situation with your doctor and ask whether there have been any breakthroughs since your last visit. You could also research alternative ways to relieve your pain.  



    To make a comment, please register or login

    19th Dec 2017
    For me, Endone (morphine-based) is a necessary evil.
    19th Dec 2017
    Like most things, the exaggeration of cause/effect is very overstated.
    Sure there are some people who, apparently, can take 40 codeine based products a day. This might account for most of the reported deaths. Equally, there are many people, like me, who take 4-6 per day to relieve pain of many sorts. I have refused Endone, OxyContin etc. But I do gain some relief using codeine based products.
    Surely, as adults, we are able to determine what is right/wrong. Manage the 0.1% as a separate issue.
    We now have "safe" injecting rooms for people (many) who chose to use hard drugs. Why are these people treated differently to others (mostly older) who are endeavouring to create a reasonable end to their lives?
    Lastly, if we were to scan the papers and extract the various things that are killing us (and in what numbers annually) IMHO we are all dying at least twice in our lifetimes.
    Old Geezer
    19th Dec 2017
    You can even pick up injecting boxes from the hospital now no questions asked.
    19th Dec 2017
    I heard and I'm trying with success, taking Panamax before bedtime to sleep better. I'm taking two Panamax before bed and finding I'm able to deep sleep for about five hours without getting up to the toilet.
    I've stopped taking sleeping tablets.
    Yesterday, my Doctor say's it ok to do so.
    Does this come into the new finding fears?
    19th Dec 2017
    It is perfectly acceptable then to be doses to the hilt in hospital even though sometime the patient does not require pain relief?
    Old Geezer
    19th Dec 2017
    Nope don't use them.
    Young Simmo
    19th Dec 2017
    I'm with you Knows-a-lot, I have been on Oxy-Contin since Dec 1010. On the day before departing from Carnarvon to South Aust while making the double bed in our caravan I did my back in really badly. I had to put up with it for 7 o0r 8 days. When we got to our son's place I went and found a lady Chinese doctor and she gave me 20 mg Ocy-Contin. The next day I went back and said "Didn't help". So she gave me 30mg, then 40mg, then 50mg which I was taking 3 times per day. When I returned home my Dr continued to give me 50 mg and after 3 years i was well and truly hooked. Cut a long story short I have gradualy reduced and am currently on 2 times 30mg per day.
    19th Dec 2017
    Simmo, your efforts to come off a highly addictive narcotic such as OxyContin are absolutely heroic and I admire your courage. Few people understand that there are relatively few differences between opium/heroin/morphine/endone/oxycontin. All are opiate derivatives and highly addictive as are all drugs which contain codeine. More people are dying from these ‘legal’ opiates including the newer drug fentanyl than heroin. Most of the drugs were prescribed by medical practitioners. We lock heroin dealers up and I wish we’d lock medicos who prescribe opiates without proper follow up too. Of course these drugs are important to relieve unremitting and uncontrolled pain suffered by the terminally ill who will die in a matter of months. It sounds as though you are now under the care of doctors who understand pain and it’s management. Good luck.
    Star Trekker
    20th Dec 2017
    I have had to wean myself off the hard stuff twice. The first time 15 years ago when my discs collapsed, and the 2nd recently after my knee replacement.
    19th Dec 2017
    A person with continuous nerve pain doesn't grin and bear it. I would have taken anything to stop the pain. As things turned out I have been taking the maximum dose of Tramadol for 10 years and half the maximum dose of Gabapentin.
    These are of course prescription issue and I will be taking them for the rest of my life with 24hour coverage.

    Pain control drugs don't mean returning to permanent employment. There is no feeling normal again, as there is still a fair bit of pain to manage after the best medication is applied. All of ones energy is directed to living a lifestyle that will minimize pain. Continuous nerve pain is not normal pain, it is a pain to fear.
    Star Trekker
    20th Dec 2017
    My daughter suffers from chronic pain and with the medication she is on, still suffers. The Drs will not prescribe endone or tramadol for her but she can have panadiene forte at night.
    30th Dec 2017
    I refuse to take pharmaceutical pain killers, they are dangerous and detrimental to your health and mind. My brother died from them, they found a bag of legal drugs prescribed from a doctor, they ruined and took his life, all thanks to incompetent doctors who are more interested in getting their bonus payments from pharmaceutical companies than helping people with pain management, 'here take this pill, if that doesn't work we will give you more and more, until your kidneys or lungs collapse'. People need to work on their pain thresholds before jumping to pain killers, and looking for alternatives, find out the cause of pain and get it treated properly. Pain killers just mask it and it never gets better it gets worse.
    I have been using a herbal supplement from Fusion for my arm/shoulder injury pain. There are many natural remedies to try as well as decreasing your animal product intake and increasing your plant intake.

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