Amazing as it may seem, medicines routinely taken for granted as safe are turning out to be more cause than cure.  This is especially true as they relate to drug overdoses.  For the first time in history, pharmaceuticals have caught up to illicit drugs in the number of overdoses they cause every year, according to a government report released yesterday.

As recently as five years ago, illegal drugs like heroin and cocaine led in ER visits from overdoses as compared to prescription drugs by a margin of 2:1.  But in 2008, ERs saw an estimated 1 million overdoses from over-the-counter and prescription meds–mostly painkillers and sedatives.

When it comes to ODing, painkillers are king, particularly oxycodone and hydrocodone, with ER visits from overdoses more than doubling from 2004 to 2008.  Data was collected from more than 200 U.S. hospitals.  Although many of the cases were overdoses, some were from mixing drugs, or mixing drugs and alcohol.

I find this news particularly disturbing, although not very surprising.  All one need do is take inventory of all recent celebrity drug overdoses to observe the unfortunate trend.  When I was a kid, many a celebrity OD’d and died–John Belushi from speedballs, Jimi Hendrix from barbiturates, and River Phoenix from heroin and coke (to see a list of celebrity drug deaths).  Today seems no different–celebrities dropping like flies–however, they are doing so from legal prescription meds.  Michael Jackson (lethal dose of propofol along with two sedatives), Heath Ledger (oxycodone, hydrocodone, temazepam, and others), Anna Nicole Smith (lethal combination of chloral hydrate and various benzodiazepines), and on and on and on.

As I said, no surprises, though.  Retail sales of five major leading painkillers nearly doubled over an eight-year period from 1997 and 2005, according to Drug Enforcement Administration figures.  The only thing I find real surprising is that “health officials are not sure why painkiller abuse rose so dramatically.”  Well, duh!!!  Doctors today write prescriptions like they are going out of style, for everything from sniffles to hangnails.  What the heck do they think is going to result?  I wouldn’t care that much except many of these arrogant stethoscope holders absolutely refuse to accept so-called alternative methods for treating pain.  Chiropractic, acupuncture, yoga therapy and massage are all possible long-term solutions to pain, but doctors aren’t passing referrals.  Oh, one of those alternatives didn’t work?  Try another–every one of those beats a daily Fentanyl patch.

Counting on painkillers is not the answer, docs.  And consumers better listen, too.  The man in the white coat isn’t responsible for your lack of discipline, your lack of initiative to find a real solution to your physical problems, or your lack of understanding that you aren’t supposed to mix your hydrocodone…with coke!  Geez.

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