Prescriptions play major role in state's overdose epidemic - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Prescriptions play major role in state's overdose epidemic

Fatal drug overdoses in the islands have been on the rise, and health officials say doctors need to do more to monitor their patients. Image Source: Hawaii Department of Health Fatal drug overdoses in the islands have been on the rise, and health officials say doctors need to do more to monitor their patients. Image Source: Hawaii Department of Health

In Hawaii, drug overdoses kill more people than guns, car accidents or drownings.

Every day, emergency rooms see people who have overdosed on drugs. Doctors in the state treat close to 4,300 people each year. And according to the state Department of Health, the number of fatal drug overdoses in 2014 -- 155 -- is the highest it's been since 2011.

When you think about the most dangerous drugs, prescription pills probably aren't at the the top of the list.

But according to state health officials, these types of medications are to blame for more than half of the Hawaii's deadly overdoses last year.

"It's pretty clear that it's related to basically medical practice of prescribing more opiate substances and in some cases other tranquilizers," said Hawaii Department of Health epidemiologist Daniel Galanis.

Prescription drugs are far from the only problem. In 2014 dozens of people died after overdosing on illicit drugs like methamphetamine and cocaine.

Also worth noting: No generation is immune.

Statistics show 75 percent of the people who have fatally overdosed on drugs over the past five years, whether from prescription drugs or something else, are between 35 and 64 years old. 

"Some of our efforts in terms of prevention is working with prescribers," said Galanis.

Doctors can access the state's Prescription Drug Monitoring Database to keep a closer eye on their patients. "You can see who's prescribing what to them and it can also help to identify so called 'doctor shoppers,'" said Galanis.

Meanwhile, the state says 75 percent of fatal overdoses are accidental.

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