Most Painkiller Users Don’t Know Opioid Sharing Is Felony

U.S. patients on prescription opioids underestimate the risks of the medication, with a majority failing to realize that it’s a felony to share their drugs, a survey from a safety group shows.

About one in seven believe it’s appropriate to share the medication with friends and family, according to the National Safety Council. About 28 percent believe it’s “slightly risky,” with little or no negative consequences, while 26 percent think it’s a misdemeanor, according to a presentation Wednesday by the council. Only 32 percent realize it’s punishable by at least a year in jail.

More Americans die from overdoses of opioid pain medicine than from heroin, according to the Centers for Disease Control. While 78 percent of those surveyed by the safety group said that heroin is very addictive, 55 percent said the same for the painkillers. Two-thirds of the patients polled said they weren’t concerned about side effects before taking the prescribed painkillers.

“These are dangerous medications, and the public just doesn’t seem to understand that,” Dr. Donald Teater, an adviser to the council, said in a presentation. “If you share your medicine with somebody, you’re basically considered a dealer and that can be punishable by up to seven years in prison.”

American International Group Inc. is among insurers that have sought to contain damage the from excessive use of medicines to treat patients covered by workers’ compensation policies. The New York-based insurer worked with John Hopkins University to analyze claims data.

‘Opiate Problem’

Researchers at the university “came to look at our book and said, ‘AIG, you’ve got an opiate problem,’” Eric Martinez, a vice president at the insurer, said at an investor conference last year. “Doctors are hooking your injured workers on opiates, and they’re not getting well.” The insurer focused on reducing addiction, he said.

Codeine, hydromorphone and oxycodone are among common opioid painkillers, according to the report. Heroin is also an opioid, though not legal in the U.S., Teater said.

Most heroin addicts turned to the drug as a cheaper alternative to their prescription-drug habits, which can cost more than $200 a day as users build up tolerance, the doctor said.

“Heroin has now become very available in almost all communities,” Teater said. “We see people changing over to heroin for economic reasons primarily, and now we see more people dying from heroin.” The rate of heroin overdose deaths almost tripled in 2013 from 2010, according to the CDC.

The National Safety Council is a non-profit organization focused on reducing risks in the workplace, on the roads and in homes. The group used data from 1,014 completed online surveys from nationally representative respondents who were 18 or older. Results included data from 427 people who self-identified as a user who was prescribed an opioid painkiller within the past three years.

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