Which kills more Americans annually? The answer is a bit more complicated than the post title, but prescription drug abuse is growing more and more costly each year.
While most major causes of preventable death are declining, drugs are an exception. The death toll has doubled in the last decade, now claiming a life every 14 minutes. By contrast, traffic accidents have been dropping for decades because of huge investments in auto safety.
Public health experts have used the comparison to draw attention to the nation’s growing prescription drug problem, which they characterize as an epidemic. This is the first time that drugs have accounted for more fatalities than traffic accidents since the government started tracking drug-induced deaths in 1979.
Fueling the surge in deaths are prescription pain and anxiety drugs that are potent, highly addictive and especially dangerous when combined with one another or with other drugs or alcohol. Among the most commonly abused are OxyContin, Vicodin, Xanax and Soma. One relative newcomer to the scene is Fentanyl, a painkiller that comes in the form of patches and lollipops and is 100 times more powerful than morphine.
Such drugs now cause more deaths than heroin and cocaine combined.
The increased drug use is attributed to the perception of both its legality, thus harmlessness, and lack of a stigma, as opposed to illegal drugs, of which people are aware of both the health risks and the stigma. But how can something you get from your doctor be bad? “People feel they are safer with prescription drugs because you get them from a pharmacy and they are prescribed by a doctor,” says Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Sgt. Steve Opferman, head of a county task force on prescription drug-related crimes.
The solution must start with the admission that doctors, in trying to provide us with a world without pain and suffering, have overprescribed us. We must rein in our lax use of these drugs as a fix for all of life’s unpleasantries. Previous generations have suffered through, and thrived from, greater hardships. Luckily for them they didn’t have such pharmaceutical advancements. We have drugged ourselves to reduce our pains and displeasures, but our numbness is now literally killing us.