From the News Desk of Jeanne Hambleton

Posted on June 17, 2014 by Stone Hearth News

The number of deaths involving commonly prescribed painkillers is higher than the number of deaths by overdose from heroin and cocaine combined, according to researchers at McGill University.

In a first-of-its-kind review of existing research, the McGill team has put the spotlight on a major public health problem: the dramatic increase in deaths due to prescribed painkillers, which were involved in more than 16,000 deaths in 2010 in the U.S. alone. Currently, the US and Canada rank #1 and #2 in per capita opioid consumption.

“Prescription painkiller overdoses have received a lot of attention in editorials and the popular press, but we wanted to find out what solid evidence is out there,” says Nicholas King, of the Biomedical Ethics Unit in the Faculty of Medicine.

In an effort to identify and summarize available evidence, King and his team conducted a systematic review of existing literature, comprehensively surveying the scientific literature and including only reports with quantitative evidence.

“We also wanted to find out why thousands of people in the U.S and Canada are dying from prescription painkillers every year, and why these rates have climbed steadily during the past two decades,” says Nicholas King, of the Biomedical Ethics Unit in the Faculty of Medicine.

“We found evidence for at least 17 different determinants of increasing opioid-related mortality, mainly, dramatically increased prescription and sales of opioids; increased use of strong, long-acting opioids like Oxycontin and methadone; combined use of opioids and other (licit and illicit) drugs and alcohol; and social and demographic factors.”

“We found little evidence that Internet sales of pharmaceuticals and errors by doctors and patients–factors commonly cited in the media — have played a significant role,” Prof. King adds.

The findings point to a complicated “epidemic” in which physicians, users, the health care system, and the social environment all play a role, according to the researchers.

“Our work provides a reliable summary of the possible causes of the epidemic of opioid overdoses, which should be useful for clinicians and policy makers in North America in figuring out what further research needs to be done, and what strategies might or might not be useful in reducing future mortality,” says King.

“And as efforts are made to increase access to prescription opioids outside of North America, our findings might be useful in preventing other countries from following the same path as the U.S. and Canada.”

The results of this research are published in the American Journal of Public Health,


I have been asked about the unavailability of coproxamol by a reader but need to do some research. I will come back in a few days when I have more information. The story of the fight to maintain this painkiller as a legalized drug seemed to go on for years. We fought hard and long and had the support of many GPs, but we were over ruled and lost the battle.

As a matter of interest the following paragraph highlights the background dates relating to how it unfolded over the years.

January 2005 – MHRA announces withdrawal of coproxamol
October 2006 – A Pulse survey reveals 70% of GPs demand the MHRA review its decision
January 2007 – MPs demand U-turn on withdrawal at special House of Commons debate
October 2007 – 60,000 patients remain on coproxamol
December 2007 – Final withdrawal of coproxamol
January 2008 – PCTs panic as price of coproxamol soars

To the best of my recollection coproxamol was withdrawn and GPs were not longer able to prescribe this officially. It became an off license drug. In theory this meant if a GP prescribed it and the patient deliberately over dosed, the GP would be considered responsible.

Many GPs, including my doctor, were not prepared to take the risks albeit many of us had been taking the drug for years without incident. But the MHRA thought we could not be trusted. It was claimed the number of suicides using this drug had risen. So it was withdrawn from the list of drugs that were available on prescription and many patients were forced on to substitutes, which seemed to have bad side effects and were claimed to be ineffective by comparison.

Following the ban, the cost of the drug went sky high which made it even more difficult for sympathetic GPs to prescribe for long suffering patients who the GPs had been treating and prescribing coproxamol for years.

Doctors are now prescribing co-codamol. I imagine you would need to take more of these to do the ‘dirty deed’ if you wanted to end it all, which is perhaps why folk claim they are not as strong as coproxamol. I seem to read more and more stories about folk jumping off bridges and walking in front of trains.

Coproxamol is a combination of two active ingredients, paracetamol and dextropropoxyphene.

Talk soon Jeanne


About jeanne hambleton

Journalist-wordsmith, former reporter, columnist, film critic, editor, Town Clerk and then fibromite and eventer with 5 conferences done and dusted. Interested in all health and well being issues, passionate about research to find a cure and cause for fibromyalgia. Member LinkedIn. Worked for 4 years with FMA UK as Regional Coordinator for SW and SE,and Chair for FMS SAS the Sussex and Surrey FM umbrella charity and Chair Folly Pogs Fibromyalgia Research UK - finding funding for our "cause for a cure" and President and co ordinator of National FM Conferences. Just finished last national annual Fibromyalgia Conference Weekend. This was another success with speakers from the States . Next year's conference in Chichester Park Hotel, West Sussex, will be April 24/27 2015 and bookings are coming in from those who raved about the event every year. I am very busy but happy to produce articles for publication. News Editor of FMS Global News on line but a bit behind due to conference. A workaholic beyond redemption! The future - who knows? Open to offers with payment. Versatile and looking for a regular paid column - you call the tune and I will play the pipes.
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