Surge In Prescription Drug Overdoses Causes Drug Induced Deaths To Top Motor Vehicle Fatalities
As of late, there has been an increased wariness of prescription drug use. A growing number of people have been expressing concern with many aspects of modern medicine, especially corruption on the part of the FDA and the over medicating of American citizens, even children. Many who criticize prescription drugs are quick to point out the dangers, and even argue that they pose an even greater threat than illegal drugs, and over the past few years, evidence has been trickling in from all over the map that proves their arguments have some serious weight to them.
An analysis by the LA Times on 2009 death statistics reported by the CDC reveals that more American lives are being lost to prescription drugs than their illegal street counterparts and it is fueling the growth of drug induced deaths to previously unheard of numbers. Drug overdose surpassed the death toll from motor vehicle accidents, for the very first time on record, and claimed 39,147 lives. The report also found that commonly abused prescription drugs like OxyContin, Vicodin, Xanax, Soma and the newly popular Fentanyl, which has 100 times the pain killing abilities of morphine, cause more deaths than cocaine and heroin combined.
Nearly every cause of preventable death has declined in recent years, with the exception of drug overdose, which has doubled over the course of the past decade. The CDC has declared the situation a national epidemic, and it is reaching into all age demographics. Between 2000 and 2008, drug fatalities doubled among teens and young adults and tripled for those aged 50 to 69, with the highest number occurring for people in their 40s. Unsurprisingly, in those same years, drug overdose on prescription pain killers and anti anxiety medications more than tripled. It has been suggested that the reason these drugs are so lethal is because they are prescribed by trusted doctors, and patients using them do not understand the danger posed, as there is very little stigma attached to using them. It is very common for people to know friends or family using a prescription drug, and therefore, it is assumed that they are relatively safe.
Not only are prescription drugs viewed as less harmful than street drugs, they are also becoming easier to come by. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy reported that they are now second only to marijuana in being the drug of choice for today’s teens, and seven of the top ten drugs used by twelfth graders were prescription drugs. A whopping forty percent of high school seniors claimed that prescription drugs were easy to obtain, and they also believed that there was less shame in being caught with them. While some people are using these drugs illegally, many are overdosing on their own prescriptions. As the death toll rises, so does the number of prescriptions being written by doctors. In California, the number of prescriptions for painkillers has risen by more than 43% since 2007, and the doses themselves have gone up nearly 50%. It’s now estimated that 11% of Americans over the age of twelve are on a prescribed antidepressant or antipsychotic. And it so happens that the most commonly abused drug, Vicodin, is also the most heavily prescribed, and it is doled out more than the top antibiotic and the top cholesterol drug.
The exact reasons for prescription drug fatalities are numerous, with most being the result of an accidental overdose, but suicide, adverse reactions and mixing the wrong drugs together also claim their fair share of lives. But it has recently come to light that nearly half of all prescription drugs are produced overseas, and of those, 81% are made in factories that have never been inspected by the FDA. Many of the 3,765 foreign factories are in China, where safety regulations are few and far between. Perhaps even more frightening is the fact that, according to a 2008 report by the US Government Accountability Office, the FDA took between two and five years to investigate foreign plants that had been cited for safety issues. And in 2009, only 11% of foreign factories were visited by the FDA at all, despite the fact that US manufacturing plants must be inspected every other year. The GAO also determined that the FDA has inaccurate records on their overseas factories, meaning it is easy for some facilities to slip through the cracks. Many are crying out for more oversight, but because it is so difficult to prove which deaths may have occurred as a direct result of improper manufacturing, it is unlikely it will ever happen.
There have been several incidences on record, however, of improper manufacturing leading to the deaths of American citizens, including an episode in 2008. Chinese manufacturers swapped a fake ingredient with the real main ingredient in the generic blood thinner, heparin. As a result, 81 people lost their lives and hundreds of others became very ill. After a closer look, it turned out the factory had never seen an FDA inspection. Even inexpensive, over the counter medication is often made in foreign facilities that are never inspected, including the majority of vitamin C supplements and aspirin.
If anyone thought 2009’s figures were a fluke, they were proven wrong last week. Preliminary figures have been released by the CDC for the year of 2010 and it shows a continuation of the previous year’s troubling statistics. It seems that 37,792 people died from drug overdose and other drug related causes, and again topped motor vehicle fatalities, which came in at 35,080 deaths. The number of drug related deaths is actually very likely to climb due to the time-consuming nature of toxicology reports. This data doesn’t yet show which deaths were a result of prescription drugs, but if it is anything like previous years, we can assume those caused by illicit street drugs will be the minority.
Everyone seems to have a solution for this epidemic, including better educating the public, more regulation by the FDA, removing bonuses for doctors who prescribe more medication and even suggesting that we move back toward natural cures and therapies. And while many may have been criticized previously, they are finally having their arguments validated. These facts are sobering, and perhaps they will lead to a much-needed discussion about drugs in America. Or perhaps people will gloss over it, as they do with most things of importance, and go back to watching videos of cats on youtube.