While it may seem as though the war on drugs is as active as ever, new numbers reveal that efforts to curb drug use and overdose deaths may not be working as well as previously thought. According to a recent study by Trust for America’s Health (TAH), overdose deaths in the United States rose significantly between the years of 2009 and 2013. Even more disturbing is the fact that 2 percent of the reported overdose deaths were from prescription drugs. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports similar findings that reveal 44 people die daily from prescription opioid overdoses.
The Numbers Don’t Lie
Overall, data from TAH’s study showed that drug overdose deaths decreased in only six states while rising in 26. In fact, 36 states had more deaths from drug overdoses than they did from motor vehicle accidents. Additionally, of the 22,767 prescription drug overdose deaths reported in 2013, 71 percent involved opioid painkillers. Numbers like these are part of the reason that the CDC proclaimed that prescription drug abuse in the U.S. has reached epidemic proportions.
The CDC report provides more in-depth statistics regarding prescription drug overdose deaths. According to the CDC, between 1999 and 2013 the majority of OD deaths were among those ages 25 to 54. Alarmingly, the overdose rate for those between the ages of 55 to 64 rose seven times during that same time period. And, while most overdose deaths involved men, the data showed that the gap between male and female OD deaths is closing quickly. Additionally, while overdose death rates rose dramatically for almost all ethnic groups, it grew most for Caucasians.
Costs of Prescription Drug Abuse
While prescription drug abuse is often considered an individual act against oneself, in actuality, the costs to society are significant. For example, data from 2011 showed that 1.4 million emergency room visits were related to prescription drugs. There is also a significant financial cost as well. The CDC reports that in 2007, the United States spent approximately $55.7 billion on prescription drug abuse. This number was broken down to reveal that 46 percent was workplace costs such as lost productivity, 45 percent was healthcare costs such as drug treatment and 9 percent was the cost to the criminal justice system.
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In an attempt to reduce abuse of prescription drugs, every state, except for Missouri, has enacted drug monitoring programs that make it difficult for patients to obtain multiple prescriptions for certain drugs. Some states are opting to specifically address prescription drug overdoses by increasing the availability of a drug called naloxone. Naloxone is a type of antidote that reverses the effects of opioid-based drug overdoses. While naloxone is still a relatively new drug, it shows great promise in reducing overdose deaths. In a study that examined its usage in 188 different communities, naloxone successfully reversed 10,000 overdoses. Opioids are a classification of drugs that include both prescription-based drugs, like Vicodin, as well as illegal drugs, such as Heroin.