CDC Calls Prescription Drug Abuse a Public Health Epidemic

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Personal stories sometimes bring home the great tragedy that is prescription drug abuse. It’s a problem the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) wants Americans to be better informed about.

Austin Box played linebacker for the Oklahoma Sooners. Like so many other college football players, Box took hard hits and kept coming back for more. The 22-year-old took one hit that ruptured a disc in his back. He did physical therapy. Then the all-American put on his game face and re-entered the fray.

In 2011 Box and his father made a three day visit to St Louis. Dad says that Austin seemed fine in every way while they were together on the trip. Yet one day later Box was discovered senseless and soon after died in the hospital. The hospital toxicology report revealed that Box had five pain relievers and an anti-anxiety medication in his blood at the time of death. The lethal combination of drugs simply stopped his heart.

Data from all directions points to a frightening surge in prescription pain pill related deaths. The CDC reports that popular prescription pain relievers like Oxycontin and Vicodin have taken 125,000 lives during the past decade. Since 1999, the number of overdose deaths connected to prescription pain medications has quadrupled.

But overdose fatalities are not the only indicator heralding a serious pain pill problem. The CDC says that each fatality due to overdose is mirrored by 32 emergency room visits, 10 admissions to rehab facilities, 130 individuals who are abusers and 825 who use prescription pain medications recreationally.

To help Americans better grasp the gravity of the situation the CDC has posted a list of prescription drug abuse facts. Here are just a few:

1. In 2010 doctors prescribed enough pain pills to medicate every adult American every four hours for an entire month. That is a staggering amount of pain medication floating around in the general population.

2. In 2012 around one out of every 20 Americans admitted having used prescription pain medication recreationally. In many cases, Americans may get the pills for legitimate reasons and then abuse them, or they may get them from friends and relatives who had a legitimate prescription.

3. The number of deaths associated with prescription pain medications is of epidemic proportions.

4. Doctors themselves can help reverse the trend. Physicians who adhere to the following CDC-recommended practices can be part of turning the problem around:

  • Carefully screen patients for substance abuse as well as mental health issues
  • Exhaust all other treatment options before prescribing the most potent pain relievers
  • Prescribe only a limited number of pain pills not to exceed the normal duration of pain
  • For long-term pain patients, initiate urine testing and written patient/doctor agreements
  • Discuss with patients how to safely use their pain medication, along with the risks of overuse. Emphasize safe storage of prescription medication (locked cabinets out of the reach of others), along with how to safely dispose of unused pills.

The CDC fact list contains 10 points in all, facts with which all Americans should become familiar. Since most of the drugs get into the hands of abusers from family members and friends, the only way to combat the problem is to reduce the number of prescriptions being written and to better control the drugs once they enter the population. It’s going to take more responsibility on the part of doctors and patients in order to prevent more stories like that of Austin Box from being written.

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