I’m a child of the 1980s. That means America has been embroiled in a costly and violent “War on Drugs” for my entire life. After billions of dollars spent, thousands of lives lost, and millions ruined by long-term imprisonment, you’d think we’d be close to ending this decades long war–but we’re not. Not even close. In fact, there’s compelling evidence to suggest that we’ve actually overlooked the real enemy all along.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), rates of death by drug overdose have more than tripled since 1990, but the deceased weren’t smoking crack or shooting heroin into their veins. They’re not even unemployed and homeless. In fact, most of them look like normal citizens. Why? Because most of these skyrocketing deaths are caused by perfectly legal prescription drugs.
Prescription drug abuse is something we rarely hear about, unless it’s prompted by the death of a celebrity. With Philip Seymour Hoffman, Michael Jackson, Heath Ledger, Whitney Houston and Cory Monteith all meeting an early demise thanks to legal substances, some have begun to take a hard look at the statistics of prescription drug abuse in America. The numbers don’t lie, and what they prove is horrifying.
4 Shocking Facts About Prescription Drugs Abuse in America
1. In the United States, drug overdose was the leading cause of injury death in 2010. Amongst people aged between 25 and 64 years old, drug overdose caused more deaths than motor vehicle traffic crashes. Perhaps most shocking is how quickly drug abuse is escalating among people in their fifties. ”This is, at least in part, due to the aging of the baby boomers, whose rates of illicit drug use have historically been higher than those of previous cohorts,” explains NIDA. But seniors aren’t the only ones experimenting with prescription drugs. Every day in the United States, an average of 2,000 teenagers use prescription drugs without a doctor’s guidance for the first time.
2. Almost any prescription drug can be abused, but these two are the big killers: Opioids and benzodiazepines. Opiods are psychoactive chemicals that resemble morphine or other opiates in its pharmacological effects, and are most commonly found in pain killers. Benzodiazepines have sedative, hypnotic (sleep-inducing), anxiolytic (anti-anxiety), euphoric, anticonvulsant, and muscle relaxant properties. And where are Americans getting these fatal drugs? Not from pharmacy thefts or black market drug dealers, but from doctors who look forward to the repeat business an addict provides. “Opioids are more readily being prescribed in the past decade than ever previously before by doctors to patients, often without consideration of the severity of their condition, their state of mental health, and alternative medications and options,” reports Tufts University. The same thing holds true for Benzodiazepines.
3. Rampant prescription drug abuse is costing us big: “In the United States, prescription opioid abuse costs [alone] were about $55.7 billion in 2007. Of this amount, 46% was attributable to workplace costs (e.g., lost productivity), 45% to healthcare costs (e.g., abuse treatment), and 9% to criminal justice costs,” reports the CDC.
4. Certain demographic groups are more inclined to the abuse of medical substances (and not the ones you think): Among those who died from drug overdose in 2010, men were nearly twice as likely as women to die; American Indians/Alaska Natives had the highest death rate, followed by whites and then blacks; The highest death rates were among people 45-49 years of age. Geography and socioeconomic status also play a role in risk, as the southwestern United States and the Appalachian regions have seen the greatest impact from prescription drug use, particularly in West Virginia and New Mexico.
With all of this addiction, injury and death directly linked to the over-prescription of “medicines” you’d think the War on Drugs would include pharmaceutical companies, doctors and the health insurance industry. But it doesn’t. Instead, the U.S. government forks over huge subsidies to these companies, who then price-gouge customers until their drugs go generic–then incentivize doctors to over-prescribe so they can continue to rake in the profits.
Do you really want to keep kids off drugs and win the drug war? Well it‘s time to take a long hard look at what‘s in your very own medicine cabinet.
Lead image via Thinkstock, infographic via Best Drug Rehabilitation