Prescription drug lethal overdose killed more people in the US than heroin and cocaine combined, a recent CDC (Center for Disease Control) report stated. In 2008, over 20,000 people died from prescription drug overdose, about 50 per day. Oxycodone, Oxycontin, Methadone and Percocet were the narcotic painkillers most often responsible for overdose, accounting for almost 15,000 deaths. The director of the CDC, Tom Frieden, calls this an “epidemic.”
The rapid increase in deaths is parallel to the increase in number of prescriptions written over the past decade. In 1999, 4000 deaths were attributed to prescription drug overdose. The report didn’t mention if pain had increased fourfold in the decade as well. Although no demographic appears immune, difference high to low among states could be as much as 7 times for the rate of overdose, while whites and American Indians were three times more likely to die from overdose than blacks and white Hispanics. Men aged 45-54 were especially hard hit by prescription overdose.
The inadvertent prescription drug addiction often starts with some injury for which painkillers are prescribed. The need for the high outlasts the need for pain relief and the addiction takes hold. 20mgs/day becomes 40 becomes 90, and a lot of thought, attention and several hundred dollars per month become necessary to maintain the habit. The withdrawal is agonizingly painful, with Methadone withdrawal often described as worse than heroin, and oxycodone withdrawal described as the worst ever experienced.
The availability of these drugs won’t change soon; they are good at what they do, they are safe when taken in the proper dose, and they make a lot of money. But we can do some things to protect ourselves from the potential negative consequences of prescription drugs.
*Get rid of what you’ve got – throw away all of your old medications. You can’t get addicted to something that isn’t there, and neither can anyone you care about.
*If it is a minor injury, ask your doctor if there is a non-narcotic alternative. This is especially important if you have a history of abuse or addiction. Remind your doctor that this is the case. You are also at higher risk to become addicted if you have engaged in process addictions, such as shopping, gambling or pornography.
*If you are taking pain medication, make sure to take it within the prescribed dosage and right on time. A big component of the addiction cycle is doing more and feeling high followed by not doing it and feeling bad. Maintaining a steady dose will lower the chances for addiction.
*Don’t assume you’ve got it under control. This addiction progresses, just like other addictions do. If you’re in the early stages, do something now rather than later.