Deaths from opioid use doubled in the Canadian province of Ontario from the early nineties to the middle of this decade, with introduction of the painkiller oxycodone linked to these mortality increases, according to new research that adds to growing concerns about prescription opioid abuse.
As recently detailed in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, researchers analyzed prescription records in Ontario from 1991 to 2007, finding that annual opioid prescriptions increased by 29 percent (from 458 to 591 out of 1,000 individuals).
Additionally, prescription of the opioid oxycodone increased by 850 percent in this time period.
The Canadian researchers then examined all deaths linked to opioid use, which increased from 13.7 opioid-related deaths per million deaths in 1991 to 27.2 opioid-related deaths per million deaths in 2004.
According to the study, oxycodone was associated with a 41 percent increase in overall opioid-related deaths.
The researchers added that most of the opioid-related deaths were accidental and even occurred in many cases just one month after a visit to a physician, thus signaling a missed opportunity for preventing opioid abuse.
Also known as narcotics, opioids like oxycodone (brand names Oxycontin, Percocet, Percodan), hydromorphone (Dilaudid) and hydrocodone (Vicodin) are potent analgesic drugs that can be used to treat chronic pain for short periods of time, although their highly-addictive nature and indications for overuse can cause some doctors to hesitate to prescribe them.
Prior to these new Canadian findings, other studies have recently explored the opioid debate, detailing opioid use for chronic pain and depression and providing estimates of opioid abuse.