“Legal Death by Prescription”
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“Legal Death by Prescription”

San Francisco : CA : USA | Feb 17, 2012 at 6:21 PM PST
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Another victim of prescription drug abuse

Each time another celebrity falls victim to an improper use of prescription drugs, the topic of prescription drug abuse becomes a headline. Not for very long, just for a few days, before new stories take over the headlines.

In 1970s, we talked about Elvis Presley and Jimi Hendrix who became fatalities of prescription drug abuse, or about Bruce Lee who died of allergic reaction to a painkiller. At the time, however, we didn’t think of prescription drug abuse as anything else than a ‘celebrity problem’.

Then, in 2008, prescription drug abuse became a headline topic for several days after accidental death of Heath Ledger. Then again in 2009, after shocking death of Michael Jackson. The trial of Michael Jackson’s doctor in 2011, Conrad Murray, brought up the issue of how doctors themselves can add to the problem. Now, in 2012, we talk about prescription drug abuse again, after premature death of Whitney Houston.

Will we forget about the problem of dependence on and abuse of prescription drugs once again when the details surrounding Whitney Houston death become ‘old news’ and disappear from headline stories? Or will we finally realize how serious the issue has become?

Prescription drug abuse is still most prevalent in the United States, although other areas, like Europe, Southern Africa and South Asia, are now facing the issue.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), an estimated 20% of people over the age of 12 in the United States have used prescription drugs for non-medical purposes, and the average age for first-time users is now 13 to 14.

Most people believe that prescription drugs are safer than illegal street drugs. Unfortunately, this false assumption translates to a dangerous tendency to abuse drug dosage or combine it with alcohol or other narcotics. For example, according to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, “teens who abuse prescription drugs are twice as likely to use alcohol, 5 times more likely to use marijuana, and 12 to 20 times more likely to use illegal street drugs such as heroin, Ecstasy and cocaine than teens who do not abuse prescription drugs.”

All these leads to the most grim statistic: “more than 40 people die every day from overdoses involving narcotic pain relievers like hydrocodone (Vicodin), methadone, oxycodone (OxyContin), and oxymorphone (Opana)”, as stated in the report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in November, 2011. In summary, the death toll from overdoses of prescription painkillers has more than tripled in the past decade.

Prescription drug are presently responsible for more overdose deaths than illegal drugs like cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and amphetamines combined.

Shockingly, analysis of government data by the Los Angeles Times in 2009 revealed that deaths from misuse of prescription drugs outnumbered traffic-related fatalities in the United States. The article stated that drug abuse is claiming a life every 14 minutes.

The burning question is how to stop this wave of drug abuse and death. We have become an over-medicated population with rather an easy accessibility to prescription drugs. Whether it is a premeditated practice of taking handfuls of drugs from wherever possible, reckless abuse of usage instructions and warnings, or exploiting unethical doctors, there is no denying that prescription drug abuse has become a very serious problem. Not a simple source for headline news that fades away after couple of weeks.

It’s not a malady of troubled celebrities but, this very moment, it may be afflicting somebody in your family, one of your friends, somebody you pass on the street, or maybe even you.

The problem of prescription drug abuse and drug-related death is here to stay. After taking a life of a celebrity, it’ll be fast to wreak a life of some ‘ordinary’ person. Although, this won’t hit the headlines.

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Bea_Shaylee_Sayers is based in San Francisco, California, United States of America, and is an Anchor on Allvoices.
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