Recently, the Houston Chronicle published an article indicating that the Unites States consumes over 70% of the world’s legal medicinal supply of opiates. The Houston Chronicle cites to an analysis of the Congressional Record and international treaty data in reaching these figures. Given that opiates are powerful, poppy-based pain medications, and closely related to heroin, these statistics are shocking. Toxicologists and chemists fear that the nation’s over-prescription problem is creating a “Generation Rx.” Even more shocking and alarming are the increasing number of prescription drug overdose deaths across the country.
Some are describing the national wave of prescription overdoses as a “national epidemic.” Many are criticizing the federal agencies that oversee imports, the federal agencies that license drugmakers, and doctors as being sluggish in their reactions to the exponential increases in reported overdose deaths caused by opiates. Indeed, prescription drug overdoses have doubled in the past five years, nationwide. Experts are critical of the FDA in that they feel that the FDA is too dependent on the pharmaceutical industry for funding and is too slow to react to strong evidence of public health threats posed by prescription pain medication.
Also recently, a Harris County jury hit a local doctor and his “pill mill” for millions of dollars and awarded it to the family of an overdose victim, Michael Skorpenske. The jurors were interviewed and they wanted to “send a message.” However, since 2006, more than 1,200 people have died of accidental overdoses in Harris County. In fact, Houston doctors have been directly traced to high-profile prescription drug deaths by DEA and the Texas Medical Board. Both Michael Jackson and Heath Ledger received at least one prescription from a Houston-based doctor. This is a problem that hits close to home.
According to emergency room data from the Drug Awareness Warning Network, the number of overdoses caused by prescription drugs are double, triple, or even quadruple the number of overdoses tied to “illegal drugs” like cocaine or heroin in almost every major American city. However, because big business and the pharmaceutical industry get to make the profits on these drug sales, we don’t yet have a “War on Prescription Drugs.” According to Dr. Amitava Dasgupta, an expert in toxicology and clinical chemistry, “If you stop this growth of pain medicines, drug companies will face a serious crisis because these are the most-prescribed drugs in this country” and “we’re concerned that we’re going to create an entire generation that is dependent on drugs.”