It seems that Americas’ Drug War has taken a bit of a turn; a turn for the worse in the direction of prescription drugs. While we as a society have been focused on the illegal recreational Drug War, the legal pharmaceutical drugs have become far more dangerous by comparison. Death by Medicine you might say.
To put things in perspective, according to a recent publication by the Los Angeles Times and based on government data, deaths such as overdoses by prescription narcotics now exceed traffic fatalities in the United States. In 2009 data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention supports there were at least 37,485 deaths directly related to pharmaceutical drugs. While traffic fatalities and other major causes of preventable death are on the decline, this number has doubled in the last decade and continues to rise. Additionally this number is higher than all the deaths related to Cocaine and Heroin combined for the same time period. Among the most commonly abused drugs are names like Oxycontin, Vicodin, Xanax, and Soma. Typically deaths due to prescription drugs result from overdose, suicide and adverse reactions as a result of the mixing of drugs.
Between 2000 and 2008 drug fatalities among teens more than doubled. Deaths among people ages 50 to 69 more than tripled and the overall highest death toll was among people in their 40s. Overdose fatalities as a result of painkiller prescriptions such as Oxycontin and Vicodin and anti-anxiety drugs like Valium and Xanax more than tripled between 2000 and 2008.
According to the U.S. CDC a 2007-2008 study found that 1 out of 5 children and 9 out of 10 adults reported using at least one prescription drug in the last month whether it was prescribed to them or not. This translates to better than 50% of the U.S. population using prescription drugs on a regular basis and that as much as 60% of that number is abusing prescription drugs.
Perhaps the main reason why the use and abuse of prescription drugs is on the rise is because there is no real stigma associated like there is with typical street drugs. The pharmaceutical companies spend millions on advertising in magazines, TV commercials etc. Popular athletes and celebrities endorse the drugs. A young teenager might be surrounded by other students and friends that are on prescription drugs, Mom might have some in her purse and Dad has some in the medicine cabinet. Teenagers today have parties where they throw a mixture of different drugs in a bowl and then take a few pills having no idea what they just took. Too many people see the situation as “why not?” Everyone is using them I might as well join in. These drugs are sold among friends handed out in social settings and sold on the black market just like street drugs. The modern day drug addict using and abusing prescription drugs could be doing so with a legal prescription. That addict could be the Doctor who wrote the prescription or the Police officer, Teacher, Lawyer, Truck driver or the School Bus Driver driving your kids to school.
It would be nice to think that the pharmaceutical companies and the medical community in general have the health and well being of the country first in mind and not their bank account. But that does not necessarily seem to be the case. Every major pharmaceutical company has been fined by the government and had countless lawsuits, many of them class action, levied against them for marketing dangerous drugs. In particular, Merck pulled the drug Vioxx from the market only after many deaths, possibly thousands, had been attributed to it over many years during which time Merck, Doctors, and the medical community kept quiet and continued to produce and prescribe the deadly drug.
Prescription drugs have become the drugs of choice throughout the U.S. and it’s not hard to see why. Essentially they are legal and readily accessible and for many people with good insurance they are cheap or at no cost at all. All a person needs to do is go to a Doctor complain of pain, anxiety or low energy and the next thing you know they are leaving with a prescription. They then go to the local Drug store of which there is one on every corner and get their drugs. It’s just that easy and completely legal although now we know it can be deadly as well.
Written by DMK of Seven Grains