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Thin Line Between "Legal Drugs" and "Illegal Drugs" — Results Eerily Similar Sometimes


They are called “legal” drugs, but for the thousands of fatalities that result from their use the comparison with illegal drugs is a distinction without a difference.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the number of deaths attributed to prescription painkillers now exceeds those attributed to illegal street drugs such as heroin and cocaine.

PBS recently talked to the family of Oklahoma Sooners Linebacker, Austin Box, who died in 2011 from a combination of five pain medications and an anti-anxiety drug that stopped his heart at the age of 22. No one had any idea that this young man was addicted to prescription painkillers.

The CDC reports the number of deaths attributed to prescription drugs had quadrupled in the U.S rising from 4,030 fatalities in 1999 to 16,651 in 2010. OxyContin, Vicodin, Opana and methadone are believed to be responsible for about 125,000 U.S. lives over the last decade and the CDC reports that is just part of the picture.

For every fatality there are 32 emergency room visits, 10 drug treatment admissions and 130 other users who are addicted.

The CDC reports on the Top 10 things you should know about Prescription Drug Abuse:

  1. More Americans are killed by drug overdoses than car crashes – about 105 deaths every day.
  2. There were enough painkillers prescribed in 2010 to medicate all U.S. adults every four hours for one month.
  3. Prescription drugs deaths increased four times from 1999 to 2010.
  4. Non-medical use of painkillers for a “high” is sought by one in 20 Americans.
  5. It is suggested you hide or lock up prescription painkillers or dispose of them properly.
  6. Community and state policies are being employed to prevent painkiller drug overdoses.
  7. The Patient Review and Restriction Program and Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs can coordinate care for patients.
  8. State laws can address doctor shopping and pill mills.
  9. Substance abuse programs can intervene and help save lives by reducing overdoses among addicts. 
  10. Prescribers should turn to painkillers as a last resort, prescribe only what is necessary and monitor patients for substance abuse.

The problem isn’t just with teenagers but of adult Americans as well. The CDC estimates about 12 million adults and teens used prescription painkillers to get a “high” while emergency room visits have doubled to nearly a half million.

Even if you are not a statistic, the CDC estimates the painkiller epidemic is costing all Americans more than $72.5.8 billion annually in related healthcare costs.

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