Prescription Drugs Kill More Americans Than Heroin And Cocaine
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08-27-13 Category: Addiction Treatment, Drug Rehab

Prescription Drug  Addiction

Prescription drugs are flying under the radar, when in reality, they are responsible for more deaths in the United States than heroin and cocaine combined.

Would you have thought otherwise? “Street drugs”, like heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, crack, and marijuana, get a bad rap, for good reason, but the same stigma and immediate thought of danger should now also be applied to prescription drugs.

Identification of the Problem

Brandeis University, located just outside of Boston in Massachusetts, conducted the study that lead to the conclusion that prescription drugs cause more deaths than heroin and cocaine combined. The research team at the university’s Heller School for Social Policy and Management wanted to identify the true drug problem in our country in an effort to provide recommendations for prevention, intervention, and treatment.

Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, MD, MPH, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or the CDC, validates the results: “Overdoses involving prescription painkillers are at epidemic levels and now kill more Americans than heroin and cocaine combined.”

The research team at Brandeis University, and the CDC, suggest a shift from a reactive approach, that treats an addiction problem once it is recognized and diagnosed, to a proactive approach, that works to prevent addiction before there is a problem.

Which Prescription Pills Are Causing the Problem?


Opiates and opioids are the most addictive and most dangerous forms of prescription drugs. This class kills pain and creates a euphoria in its users. These pills were created to mimic heroin, morphine, codeine, and methadone, and are sold under the pharmaceutical labels of Vicodin, Opana, OxyContin, Percocet, Norco, and other names.

CNS Depressants

Benzodiazepines are sedative drugs mainly used to treat anxiety. Valium, Xanax, Klonopin, and Ativan are the most commonly used benzos. Ideally benzodiazepines are only prescribed for short-term anxiety, panic attacks, acute stress reactions, or sleep disturbances because of their high risk for increased tolerance, dependence, and addiction.

Sleep medications, like Lunesta, Sonata, and Ambien, have similar effects to benzos, but are different chemically, plus there are fewer side effects and less risk for the development of dependence.

Barbiturates, such as Memberol and and Nembutal, are used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders, but much less frequently prescribed than opiates and benzodiazepines because of the highly likelihood of overdose.

The Facts About Our Prescription Drug Problem

  • According to the Drug Enforcement Agency (the DEA), since 1999, the sale of prescription painkillers to pharmacies and health care providers has more than tripled.

  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC), in 2009, for the first time ever, the number of people killed by prescription drug poisoning was more than the number of people killed in motor vehicle accidents.

  • The CDC reports that, in 2010, more people (aged 12 and older) abused or were already physically dependent on prescription painkillers than cocaine, heroin, stimulants, and sedatives combined.

  • CDC findings: overdose deaths from prescription painkillers more than tripled from 1999 to 2008.

  • In 2009, nearly 500,000 emergency room visits were the direct result of prescription painkiller abuse.

  • The annual cost of prescription drug abuse, dependence, and addiction due to non-medical use: $72.5 billion to health insurance companies.

  • In 2010, 1 out of every 20 people, aged 12 years or older, reported using prescription painkillers for non-medical purposes. That amounts to 12 million people in the United States alone.

  • 1 in 5 high school students admits to having used a prescription drug in his or her lifetime.

Chances are, if you do not know someone who is currently abusing a prescription drug, than it is you.

The statistics are alarming and so is the fact that it took a university study for anyone to realize that prevention is the best way to treat any disease, including addiction. Just like cancer and diabetes, addiction is progressive, meaning it will only get worse when left untreated.

What is Being Done About It?

A number of states throughout the country have created prescription drug monitoring systems. Doctor shopping is happening everywhere. A patient goes to several different doctors in an effort to get multiple prescriptions for the same medical or mental condition.

In an effort to prevent doctor shopping and prescription drug abuse and addiction, the statewide system keeps track of all prescriptions written. When a patient shows up to a doctor’s office complaining of physical pain, anxiety, a sleep disturbance, or another condition that signals the need for a prescription pill, that doctor can look up that patient by name to see if he or she is already prescribed a medication for that same condition.

What else can be done to lower the prescription drug problem in the United States?

Post by: Marissa Maldonado

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