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The "Death Diaries," or a project looking at what drugs were most responsible for patient deaths in 2013, has shown a serious problem in California. Amidst the opioid epidemic, this project aimed to find out which drugs caused the most problems to help reduce the ability of individuals to obtain them and to identify how they're obtaining them.

Some of the most obvious issues involved patients who were doctor shopping, those who were mixing their medications and doctors who weren't looking at their patients' medical drug history. After doing the research, the project sent out mail to the physicians of those who had died from overdoses. The goal was to see if the doctors would change how they prescribed medications if they knew their patients had passed away from drugs. It was discovered during the project that many of the doctors never knew their patients had passed away.

It's not just physicians to blame for overdoses, although they play a role in prescribing the medications. The drug companies, at one time, claimed opioids were safe and a non-addictive way to handle pain. That's no longer the case. While around 70 percent of the deaths researched were a result of patients not following doctors' orders, 30 percent weren't. Some patients died as a result of overprescribing or other issues, problems that are preventable.

The top drug for opioid deaths is hydrocodone, which tied for first place with oxycodone. Combined with anti-anxiety or insomnia medications, these two nervous-system depressants can be deadly. That's why it's so important for physicians to pay close attention to their patients' medical histories and for individuals with drug-related problems to get the medical help they need to stop addiction.

When it comes to drug charges, people are often accused without looking at the bigger picture. Individuals struggling with drugs don't need time in prison, they need help. They're not the only ones to blame for their situations, and this should be a consideration.

Source: The San Diego Union-Tribune, "'Death Diaries' reveal lessons about prescription drug epidemic," Kristina Davis, Jan. 6, 2018

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