The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released data that show that drugs now kill more Americans than motor vehicle accidents. On the one hand, the rate of traffic deaths has decreased, thanks to improved road safety. On the other hand, as Drug Czar, Gil Kerlikowske said, “We are in the midst of a public health crisis driven by prescription drug abuse.” (1)
More Deaths From Drugs than Car Accidents
In 2009, an estimated 37,485 people died because of drug overdose and brain damage connected to long-term drug abuse. This number exceeded traffic accident deaths by 1,200. While illegal drugs such as marijuana and heroin are still being abused (9% of Americans 12 or older use them), more Americans are suffering the ill effects of prescription drug abuse. “There has been a dramatic increase in use of prescription drugs as physicians have become more liberal in prescribing them,” said Dr. Leonard Paulozzi, medical epidemiologist at the CDC’s division of unintentional injury prevention. “And with the decrease in the motor vehicle crash mortality rate, drug-induced deaths have now passed motor vehicle crash deaths.” (1)
Prescription drug abuse is causing more problems and deaths today than ever before. In 2008, more than 305,000 Americans were taken to emergency rooms because of prescription painkiller abuse. This number is more than twice the number from 2004’s records. According to Dr. Peter Delany, director of Samsha’s Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, “the number of people starting to have significant consequences, or at least recognizing they need help, is on the rise. A lot of people think that because you need a prescription, it must be a pretty safe drug. But it’s addictive. Even if you take them the way they’re prescribed. You can build up a tolerance pretty quickly.” (1)
Drug Control Strategy
Earlier this year, the federal government came up with a drug control plan that focused heavily on curbing prescription drug abuse. Drug monitoring databases, drug take back programs, and better education for doctors and patients are all ways the government hopes to use to improve drug abuse statistics. Joel Saper, founder of the Michigan Headache and Neurological Institute in Ann Arbor, knows drugs are being overprescribed. “It’s one thing to use these drugs for surgery, trauma or burns. But this stuff is given to teenagers for headaches,” said Saper. “While there are people who deserve narcotics for pain, not all doctors are trained to understand how these drugs are used. They don’t monitor patients carefully, and they don’t look out for multisourcing. Until that all can be controlled, we’re not going to stave off the continued growth of drug-related deaths.” (1)
The government has already started cracking down on the pill mills, especially in southern Florida, and databases and take back programs have been established throughout the country. But there is still so much work to do. Hopefully the statistics will begin to improve in the years to come, as more people really start to understand the dangers of prescription drug abuse, and more people addicted to the pills get treatment.