TV commercials pitching prescription drugs have made Americans too comfortable with popping pills that can have dangerous side effects. It’s hard to believe that hasn’t played some role in the quadrupling of prescription painkiller sales between 1999 and 2010 — and the corresponding quadrupling of overdose deaths from these drugs.
A report by the Trust for America’s Health found that more than 6 million Americans abuse or misuse prescription drugs. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most of the nation’s 100 overdose deaths a day are due to prescription drugs.
Drug abuse is often considered an urban concern. But largely rural West Virginia has seen a 605 percent increase in prescription-drug overdose deaths since 1999, and it now ranks first among the states with 29 such deaths per 100,000 residents, the TFAH report says. Delaware ranks 10th and Pennsylvania 14th.
Prescribed drugs are frequently diverted to people who don’t have prescriptions. Abusers often swipe what they want from a family medicine cabinet to sell or use themselves. Few overdose deaths involve drugs stolen from a pharmacy, the TFAH study found.
Recognizing the nature of the problem, Delaware County authorities are trying to help people anonymously dispose of leftover medicines. Receptacles will be located at nine police stations and the county government building.
The county got a five-year, $625,000 grant for the program, and its mailbox-size receptacles cost $700 each. The program should be emulated, but the cost seems high. Why couldn’t participating pharmacies serve as secure drop-off spots? They could benefit from the additional customer traffic.
Pennsylvania, meanwhile, should join other states that keep databases of patients being prescribed narcotics, so that “doctor shoppers” and other potential abusers can be identified and offered treatment. The TFAH says that only one in 10 Americans with a substance abuse problem is receiving treatment.
The lack of affordable drug treatment must become a higher priority. And the volume on drug advertising must be turned down. Ads for prescription drugs were illegal until 1997 for a good reason: Drugs shouldn’t be pushed as if they’re potato chips. Who really listens to the offscreen voice that rattles off the side effects?
Doctors must avoid being wooed by pharmaceutical salesmen and so willing to comply when patients want to try drugs they see on TV. That’s no way to make sound medical decisions.
The Philadelphia Inquirer