According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, drug overdose is now the primary cause of accidental death, with opioids as the culprit in the majority of these deaths. In 2015, of the 52,404 registered overdose fatalities, approximately 20,000 involved prescription pills and nearly 13,000 involved heroin, a drug many prescription abusers turn to once their pill addiction becomes too expensive to maintain.
In Florida, 5,364 people died with one or more prescription drug in their system in 2015 and the total drug-related deaths increased by 13.9 percent from 2014. This annual report from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement also found that prescription drugs accounted for more deaths and illicit drugs.
This epidemic can in part be attributed to years of physicians’ dependence on using prescription drugs to treat problems like chronic pain, anxiety and insomnia. The U.S. market is flooded with prescribed addictive substances. In fact, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that the U.S. consumes 75% of the world’s prescription drugs even with only 5% of the total global population. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, in 2012 alone, enough prescriptions for opioids were written for each American to have their own bottle. As these drugs are prescribed by professionals, they tend to be less stigmatized than illegal street drugs. A survey by The Foundation for a Drug-Free world determined that nearly 50% of adolescents believe that prescription drugs are much safer than street drugs when the reality is that certain categories of prescription medication are highly addictive and easily as dangerous.
While all of society is affected in some way, it seems that certain populations are harder hit than others. Rates of abuse among teenagers and young adults are skyrocketing. The Foundation for a Drug Free World estimates that each day 2,500 individuals between the ages of 12-17 abuse prescription medication for the first time. Women are also more severely affected as they are more likely to suffer chronic pain than men. The CDC reports that between the years of 1999 and 2010 the number of women who suffered a fatal prescription drug overdose rose by 415% compared to a 250% rise in the number of men.
States like Florida are beginning to address the issue with stricter laws but as agencies work to fight the problem, individuals must educate themselves about the dangers of prescription medications and help those in need of intervention.