ER visits from prescription meds now equal to visits from illegal drugs

ER visits from prescription meds now equal to visits from illegal drugs


by Erica Heartquist

Bio | Email | Follow: @EricaHeartquist

Posted on June 26, 2010 at 10:53 AM


The number of emergency room visits from prescription medication abuse doubled in the last five years, according to a report released this month by the Centers for Disease Control.

People overdosing on prescription medication, are going to the emergency room now, as much as people overdosing on heroin, cocaine and other illegal drugs, the report said.

The findings are no surprise to Chaz Miller, 25, a recovering drug addict.

"I became dependent on it. I needed it," said Miller.

Miller said he became hooked on Oxycodone after an injury sent him to the hospital, a year after high school.

Soon he was taking all sorts of prescription drugs on a daily basis.

"Before I know it, I'm eating eight at a time. After that, [I was having] up to fifteen to twenty," he said.

Miller went to different emergency rooms around the Portland metro area, so doctors wouldn't get suspicious.

He admitted to hurting himself several times just to get the medication.

"I'm really lucky that I never ended up in the hospital after taking them," said Miller.

Especially lucky, after the CDC findings that for the first time, abuse of prescription pain killers is sending as many people to the emergency room as people doing illegal drugs.

Painkillers drove the trend for the study. It's being called a startling jump; considering just five years earlier, illegal drug ER visits outnumbered legal drug visits by a two to one margin.

The data comes from more than 200 emergency rooms across the country and Doctor Robert Hendrickson at OHSU said he is not surprised by the results.

"I'm glad that they studied this. I'm glad that someone looked at this," said Doctor Hendrickson.

Doctor Hendrickson is a Medical Toxicologist and the Assistant Medical Director of Oregon's Poison Center.

"We have known that prescription drug abuse has been a problem for many years and I think this was their attempt to quantify that, to say, this is the magnitude of the problem and it's clearly very, very big," he said.

"I mean, I'm 25. I could have gone to college and played ball. I could have done many, many things with my life. I was a star athlete. But, I got hooked on meds," said Miller.

There has been discussion about starting a regional database, which would list how frequently patients are filling prescriptions for pain medications, Doctor Hendrickson said.

He said without it, there is really no way to know how often patients are getting their hands on the medications at different hospitals around our area.