Shocking Prescription Drug Statistics Highlight Severity of Epidemic

By McCarton Ackerman 05/28/14

With over 100 overdose deaths per day, prescription drugs have become more deadly than car accidents, guns, and suicides.

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Shocking statistics about the prescription drug addiction epidemic are raising plenty of eyebrows, with Rx drugs claiming more lives than car accidents, guns, or suicide.

More than 100 people in the United States die each day as a result of prescription drug overdoses, according to new figures from the National Institute of Drug Abuse. Despite holding just five percent of the world’s population, the U.S. is responsible for 75 percent of all global drug use. More than five million Americans abuse painkillers each year, while 2.2 million are abusing tranquilizers and another 1.1 million are recklessly using stimulants. Enough painkillers were prescribed in 2010 to medicate every American adult every four hours for a month.

The epidemic is even affecting senior citizens. Over 300,000 seniors are reportedly misusing their medication, while emergency room visits related to this misuse more than doubled between 2007-2011 for those over the age of 55. “There's this growing group of seniors, they have pain, they have anxiety … and a lot of (doctors) have one thing in their tool box—a prescription pad,” said Mel Pohl, director of the Las Vegas Recovery Center. "The doctor wants to make their life better, so they start on the meds.”

Faced with a burgeoning problem that shows no signs of slowing down, two counties in California have filed a lawsuit over drug companies allegedly misleading doctors and the public. Santa Clara and Orange counties have begun legal proceedings against five of the country’s biggest manufacturers of narcotics, accusing them of waging a ‘campaign of deception’ against patients and doctors. The court document accuses these companies of adopting deceptive tactics, manipulating doctors into prescribing medications despite being aware of the health risks, and pushing patients to ask for painkillers for relatively minor afflictions such as headaches.

University of San Diego School of Law professor and former deputy district attorney Robert Fellmeth supported the lawsuit, stating that "California is suffering disproportionately from this problem, so it is appropriate for this state to take up this hammer.”

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.