Congratulations medicine, you’ve done it!  You’ve now helped drugs pass traffic fatalities as a cause of death in the U.S.  Bravo!  That’s right, pushers–37,485 people die every year from prescription drug overdoses, according to preliminary data from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.

While most other causes of preventable death are declining, drug deaths continue to rise.  Many blame the increases in prescriptions for pain pills and anxiety medications.  Well intentioned doctors, wanting to spare their patients from pain and suffering, have doled out these meds for years in a sort of illogical haze.  As a result, prescription drug deaths have double over the last decade, with a person overdosing every 14 minutes.

Back in the day when I was a coming up, celebrities and rock stars were ODing on heroin, cocaine, speedballs, barbiturates, and other illicit drugs, but not today!  Oh no, the new millennium is the era of Oxycontin, Vicodin, Xanax and antidepressants like Zoloft, Prozac and Paxil.  And we musn’t forget the legalized speed, Ritalin. 

Public health experts are now calling the current prescription drug trends “epidemic.”  Well no shiitake mushrooms–’bout time!  Pain killers and anti-anxiety meds are highly addictive and especially lethal when combined with other drugs, like alcohol.  And users (abusers) span every demographic from elderly ladies (like my patient on daily Fentanyl patches–100 times more potent than morphine) to children (known to get into their parents stash with tragic results).  Prescription drugs kill more people than heroin and cocaine combined.  Booyah!  Something we can all be proud of…

Why what do you mean, Campos?  Nobody is off the hook on this one: Yes, doctors are to blame because they dole out these drugs like candy.  Yes, the pharmaceutical industry is to blame because they have aggressively marketed drugs to doctors by incentivizing high prescription volumes with trips and other gifts, as well as to the public through direct-to-consumer adds in magazines and on television.  And yes, the public is the most to blame because they’ve been asking for these drugs by name.  Why?  Because it’s an easy way to get high.  And who doesn’t like getting high?

But the most important lesson to be learned from all this is that everything comes with it’s flip side.  So yes, your doctor can help you get high…or stay out of pain…or fool you into thinking you’re happy all the time…but not without a price.  And that price is often life.  Your game, your choice–the newest numbers just show how many people are playing.

Copyright © 2013 Dr. Nick Campos - All Rights Reserved.