America has a drug problem, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Their report, issued on Tuesday, found that in 2008 15,000 Americans died due to prescription painkiller overdoses. This record high death toll surpasses the combined number of deaths attributed to cocaine and heroin use.
According to the CDC, the overuse of painkillers such as hydrocodone, methadone, oxycodone, and oxymorphone constitute “a public health epidemic.” To further emphasize the magnitude of the problem, the CDC pointed out that:
- The number of deaths due to painkiller overdoses has more than tripled in the past decade.
- In 2010, about 12 million Americans (aged 12 or older) reported nonmedical use of prescription painkillers in the past year.
- Nearly half a million emergency department visits in 2009 were due to people misusing or abusing prescription painkillers.
- Nonmedical use of prescription painkillers cost health insurers up to $72.5 billion annually in direct health care costs.
The report also found that “middle-aged adults have the highest prescription painkiller overdose rates,” and that “people in rural communities are twice as likely to overdose on prescription painkillers as people in big cities.”
The reasons for the uptake in prescription painkiller overdoses are varied and many. According to Reuters, CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden blames “a few irresponsible physicians” rather than “drug pushers on street corners.” Dr. Scott Friedman, an anesthesiologist interviewed by ABC News said that “doctors are not adequately trained in the area of pain management…there isn’t enough focus on pain management in medical schools and beyond.”
The problem of prescription painkiller abuse is dire enough to warrant the attention of the Obama administration, which in April resolved to reduce abuse rates by %15 by 2015, according to ABC News.
To read the CDC’s full report, click here.
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