The “war on drugs” has focused nearly exclusively on the illegal trafficking of drugs like cocaine, heroin, and marijuana, while the most powerful drug dealers of all — the pharmaceutical companies and their “dealers” — are allowed to continue business as usual. However, propelled by an increase in prescription narcotic overdoses, drug deaths now outnumber traffic fatalities in the United States, a Los Angeles Times analysis of government data has found. Girion, Glover, Smith, “Drug Deaths now outnumber traffic fatalities in U.S., data show, Los Angeles, Sept. 17, 2011, http://articles.latimes.com/2011/sep/17/local/la-me-drugs-epidemic-20110918 Prescription drug deaths now claim a life every 14 minutes. Id. In 2009, there were nearly 4.6 million drug-related emergency department visits of which about one half (49.8 percent, or 2.3 million) were attributed to adverse reactions to pharmaceuticals and almost one half (45.1 percent, or 2.1 million) were attributed to drug misuse or abuse. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (Drug Abuse Warning Network December 28, 2010), http://oas.samhsa.gov/2k10/DAWN034/EDHighlights.htm. The most recent example of how doctors become little more than drug dealers occurred at the Veterans Center in Tomah, WI where narcotic painkillers were being hand out so easily that patients were calling the place “Candy Land.” VA hospital nicknamed “Candyland” because painkillers given out freely, Chicago Tribune, January 9, 2015, http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-tomah-va-hospital-nw-20150109-story.html#page=1 Prosecution in the area of dealers of prescription drugs needs to be reviewed and treatment for prescription drug addicts needs greater emphasis.
Prescription drugs are just as addictive as illegal drugs. For example, hydrocodone, a prescription opiate, is synthetic heroin. It’s indistinguishable from any other heroine as far as your brain and body is concerned. So, if you’re hooked on hydrocodone, you are in fact a good-old-fashioned heroin addict. One-third of new addicts report that their first drug experience was with prescription drugs. Overdose victims range in age and circumstance from teenagers who pop pills to get a heroin-like high to middle-aged working men and women who take medications prescribed for strained backs and bum knees and become addicted. The most commonly abused prescription drugs like OxyContin, Vicodin, Xanax and Soma now cause more deaths than heroin and cocaine combined. 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.
According to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, prescription drugs are second to marijuana as the drug of choice for today’s teens. In fact, alcohol and cigarette use have generally decreased over the last two decades, prescription drugs (Adderall, Vicodin, Tranquilizers, Cold Medicines, OxyContin, Ritalin) account for the most drugs abused by 12th graders after marijuana according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. http://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/infographics/monitoring-future-2014-survey-results
More than 40 percent of high school seniors reported that painkillers are ‘fairly’ or ‘very’ easy to get. They also reported that they believed that if they were to get caught, there was less shame attached to the use of prescription drugs than to street drugs. This mirrors the perceptions of their parents, who when queried said that they felt prescription drugs were a safer alternative to drugs typically sold by a drug dealer. And in 2009, there were nearly 4.6 million drug-related visits to U.S. emergency rooms nationwide, with more than half due to adverse reactions to prescription medications – most of which were being taken exactly as prescribed. Worse, it has been found that pediatric prescription drug abuse is getting worse. More children are exposed, more are seen in an ED, more are admitted, and more are injured each year. See, Bond, Woodward, Ho, “The Growing Impact of Pediatric Pharmaceutical Poisoning,” 160 Journal of Pediatrics 265-270 (Feb. 2012), http://www.jpeds.com/article/S0022-3476%2811%2900771-2/fulltext
Prescription medications can be beneficial. But medications are prescribed in harmful even lethal ways. The growing number of deaths due to prescription drug use, even when taken as prescribed, needs investigation by law enforcement in its “war on drugs.”