The United States is the largest consumer of prescription pain killers in the world and accounts for approximately 80% of the world’s consumption of such drugs.
The U.S. prescribes pain killers at a rate that would provide every American one pill for every four hours all day for three weeks. Pain pill prescriptions grew an astounding 600 percent from 1997- 2007 according to the government.
Although that may be good news for the U.S. pharmaceutical industry, in may not be such good news for consumers (or their families and loved ones). Accidental overdose is now the number one cause of accidental deaths in this country, exceeding even the number of deaths in traffic accidents. Heath Ledger’s tragic and well publicized death is but one of many celebrity accidental overdoses that has garnered significant attention, but the truth is that it is happening to your family, friends and neighbors as well.
A Dangerous Road of Tolerance and Addiction
Our seemingly endless reliance on pain killing medication certainly provides relief. But over time these drugs lose their effectiveness due to the body’s building up tolerance resulting in consumers wanting more and reliance on an increasing amount of painkillers can lead to abuse. Thus one may consume more pills than initially prescribed and unknowingly significantly increase the risk of death. Add alcohol to the mix of a large dose of prescription painkillers and a tragic end becomes even more likely.
Of course, the vast majority of pain-killing prescription drugs are indeed prescribed by a medical doctor. It seems that physicians are quick to prescribe a drug to address the immediate issue of pain, rather than explore the fundamental underlying problem. Though not intentionally, these prescriptions may lead to over-prescription and subsequent addiction to the drug by the patient.
Southern California Taking Steps
In Southern California, State Senator Curren Price of Los Angeles wants to help address this cause of accidental death by requiring coroners to report any prescription drugs that may be associated with the death of an individual to the California Medical Board.
This may help identify doctors who (unwittingly in most cases) are over-prescribing pain killers that end up contributing factors in otherwise preventable deaths. This move was precipitated by an LA Times report which concluded that almost half of all deaths involving prescribed drugs in four local counties involved victims who had a prescription to the medicine that was a contributor to their death.
Although not universally endorsed by doctors, many who would worry about the malpractice ramifications or license issues that would inevitably emerge from such reports to the Medical Board, such legislation may help stem an increasing and bad trend in the use, and abuse of prescription medicines.