Home / Business News / Prescription Drugs Kill 300 Percent More Americans than Illegal Drugs

Prescription Drugs Kill 300 Percent More Americans than Illegal Drugs

By David Gutierrez | A report by the Florida Medical Examiners Commission has concluded that prescription drugs have outstripped illegal drugs as a cause of death.

An analysis of 168,900 autopsies conducted in Florida in 2007 found that three times as many people were killed by legal drugs as by cocaine, heroin and all methamphetamines put together. According to state law enforcement officials, this is a sign of a burgeoning prescription drug abuse problem.

“The abuse has reached epidemic proportions,” said Lisa McElhaney, a sergeant in the pharmaceutical drug diversion unit of the Broward County Sheriff’s Office. “It’s just explosive.”

In 2007, cocaine was responsible for 843 deaths, heroin for 121, methamphetamines for 25 and marijuana for zero, for a total of 989 deaths. In contrast, 2,328 people were killed by opioid painkillers, including Vicodin and Oxycontin, and 743 were killed by drugs containing benzodiazepine, including the depressants Valium and Xanax.

Alcohol directly caused 466 deaths, but was found in the bodies of 4,179 cadavers in all.

While the number of dead bodies containing heroin jumped 14 percent from the prior year, to a total of 110, the number of deaths influenced by the painkiller oxycodone increased by 36 percent, to a total of 1,253.

Across the country, prescription drugs have become an increasingly popular alternative to the more difficult to acquire illegal drugs. Even as illegal drug use among teenagers have fallen, prescription drug abuse has increased. For example, while 4 percent of U.S. 12th graders were using Oxycontin in 2002, by 2005 that number had increased to 5.5 percent.

It’s not hard for teens to come by prescription drugs, according to Sgt. Tracy Busby, supervisor of the Calaveras County, Calif., Sheriff’s Office narcotics unit.

“You go to every medicine cabinet in the county, and I bet you’re going to find some sort of prescription medicine in 95 percent of them,” he said.

Adults can acquire prescriptions by faking injuries, or by visiting multiple doctors and pharmacies for the same health complaint. Some people get more drugs than they expect to need, then sell the extras.

“You have health care providers involved, you have doctor shoppers, and then there are crimes like robbing drug shipments,” said Jeff Beasley of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. “There is a multitude of ways to get these drugs, and that’s what makes things complicated.”

And while some people may believe that the medicines’ legality makes them less dangerous than illegal drugs, Tuolumne County, Calif., Sheriff’s Office Deputy Dan Crow warns that this is not the case. Because everybody reacts differently to foreign chemicals, there is no way of predicting the exact response anyone will have to a given dosage. That is why prescription drugs are supposed to be taken under a doctor’s supervision.

“All this stuff is poison,” Crow said. “Your body will fight all of this stuff.”
Tuolumne County Health Officer Todd Stolp agreed. A prescription drug taken recreationally is “much like a firearm in the hands of someone who’s not trained to use them,” he said.

While anyone taking a prescription medicine runs a risk of negative effects, the drugs are even more dangerous when abused. For example, many painkillers are designed to have a delayed effect that fades out over time. This can lead recreational users to take more drugs before the old ones are out of their system, placing them at risk of an overdose. Likewise, the common practice of grinding pills up causes a large dose of drugs to hit the body all at once, with potentially dangerous consequences.

“A medication that was meant to be distributed over 24 hours has immediate effect,” Stolp said.

Even more dangerous is the trend of mixing drugs with alcohol, which, like most popularly abused drugs, is a depressant.

“In the case of alcohol and drugs, one plus one equals more than two,” said Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Lt. Dan Bressler.

Florida pays careful attention to drug-related deaths, and as such has significantly better data on the problem than any other state. But a recent study conducted by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) suggests that the problem is indeed national. According to the DEA, the number of people abusing prescription drugs in the United States has jumped 80 percent in six years to seven million, or more than those abusing cocaine, Ecstasy, heroin, hallucinogens an inhalants put together.

Not surprisingly, there has been a corresponding increase in deaths. According to the Drug Abuse Warning Network, the number of emergency room visits related to painkillers has increased by 153 percent since 1995. And a 2007 report by the Justice Department National Intelligence Drug Center found that deaths related to the opioid methadone jumped from 786 in 1999 to 3,849 in 2004 – an increase of 390 percent.

Many experts attribute the trend to the increasing popularity among doctors of prescribing painkillers, combined with a leap in direct-to-consumer marketing by drug companies. For example, promotional spending on Oxycontin increased threefold between 1996 and 2001, to $30 million per year.

Sonora, Calif., pharmacist Eddie Howard reports that he’s seen painkiller prescriptions jump dramatically in the last five years.

“I don’t know that there is that much pain out there to demand such an increase,” he said.
The trend concerns Howard, and he tries to keep an eye out for patients who are coming in too frequently. But he admits that there is little he can do about the problem.

“When you have a lot of people waiting for prescriptions, it’s hard to find time to play detective,” he said.

Still, the situation makes Howard uncomfortable.

“It almost makes me a legalized drug dealer, and that’s not a good position to be in,” he said.

Sources for this story include: www.nytimes.com; www.uniondemocrat.com

30 comments

  1. The war on pot is bogus! It provides cops, lawyers, judges & especially the prison industry with job security, bonuses, endless growth & plenty of $$$$$$!!!!

  2. Phil E. Drifter

    Indeed, 911…

    read tinyurl.com/1mn

    then read tinyurl.com/potconviction

    then order yourself a copy from half.com.

  3. Not only do drug companies market their molecules with amoral zeal, they also select which to market after a combined assessment of their therapeutic effects (how well does it treat or cure?) AND of its side effects (which new ailments will it trigger so that we can migrate the patient to other molecules of ours?).

    The drug industry is long overdue for in-depth inspection and clean-up.

    However, this same industry manufactures biological weapons and it could be unwise to cheese off such folks.

  4. The Bush administration has spent the last 8 years fighting the use of marijuana with stupid and wasteful ads that do not work.

    While they spent all of their time and resources on marijuana they completely ignored the growing Meth problem.

    Now hundreds of thousands of people are addicted to meth and the DEA STILL tries to demonize marijuana.

  5. The 50 billion dollar a year war on drugs is a huge flop!

    So now we're going to blame Americans' deaths on drug companies. Wait let's blame Americans who are told they have to take those poisons by their doctors.

    Let's put the blame on the real criminals: Big Pharma!

    Big Pharma's greed is endless and their poisons have killed millions.

    Time to police the real criminals Big Pharma!

  6. [riffly_video]6E48FA24AFFF11DD8B8DD7618271DB70[/riffly_video]

  7. I have a quibble with the headline. If 100 people died from A and 300 died from B, it is NOT true that "300% more people died from B than A"; rather, "200% more" is the correct figure. If this seems unclear, imagine that the numbers are 100 and 110; in this case 10% more die from B than from A.

    This distinction may seem overly picky, but exaggerations used by proponents of drug legalization may be exploited by our enemies. Let's not give the bozos any ammunition!

  8. If illegal drugs caused the rate of death legal drugs do there might be some justification for them to be illegal. Legal drugs are not only more dangerous but are supported by public funding.

  9. Just more proof that the "war on drugs" is nothing more than the war for "profit from drugs".

    Fuck them all and their fascist bullshit.

  10. Alcohol is the common culprit insipidly more insidious than all the rest, yet most commonly is accepted by culture. The big bad WEED was severely propagandized to strengthen the investment of DuPont Chemical Co. in a "paper from wood pulp" patent using their slurry. They sabotaged the hemp industry to phase out hemp fiber because it was also a competitor of their new product patent for Nylon. Cannabis has never even stepped in the court killer substances with spirits, pills, narcotics, pesticides, herbicides and biochemical weapons of mass infection. Liberate!

  11. All this hype! NSAIDS (aspirin and such)kill up to 16,000 people a year from gastrointestinal bleeding. Tylenol kills livers. What about the other OTC's? Just more proof that the deaths from "illegal" drugs including illegal prescription drugs,occur in far fewer people. Nothing is taken into perspective. Maybe we need to make aspirin controlled!

  12. like everyone else one has to pay taxes to fund what is essentially a seriously flawed "War on Drugs".

    The truth is it is about using the WOD to justify an every enlarged control infrastructure & bogus control industry.

    Just do your own thing and ignore the Criminal Elite.

    to learn how useful Hemp can be:-

    http://video.google.com/videosearch?q=hemp&em

    Hemp Hemp Arayyyy! for Hemp and Up yours to the so called failed authorities -.1..

  13. I'm doing a essay over illegal drugs and if they should be legal. After reading this it allows your mind to ponder off and it hits you….why not legalize drugs it would lower crime and less tax money would be used. And one can only image in there mind the false saftey we try to play. When in fact we ourselves do worse to ourselves than illegal drugs. But however, i just think marijuana should be passed but the chemical drugs should be left alone. Allow those to kill themselves on legal drugs. Why not?

  14. Lars Andersen

    This year in Washington State, a bill was introduced to create a drug "takeback" program, that would give the citizens of WA a secure place (a drug store or local clinic) to take their expired and unused drugs for proper disposal.

    This bill was endorsed by many local governmental agencies (including law enforcement), non-profits, Bartell Pharmacies, Group Health Medical group, and the WA State Board of Pharmacies.

    On the other side was the Pharmaceutical Industry – they sent about 40 lobbyists to stop the bill from one small state from passing. The amount of money they spent on lobbyist probably could have paid for the proper disposal of all the drugs collected.

    Needless to say, the bill failed to pass – but the bill to allow the sales of Washington State wines in the Capital Building gift shop passed with no objections.

  15. Wow, this is misleading. What the title implies is that prescription drugs given properly kill patients or that patients are forced or coerced to take too many prescriptions. This is ridiculous and it is sad that so many commenters seem to believe this. Note that the prescription drugs are not in this case "legal" as in most cases, the users are actively trying to obtain them for false reasons (by stealing, tricking doctors, etc). What this should say is, "Illegally used prescription drugs kill 200% (as pointed out, it's 200 not 300%) more Americans than street drugs". It's really sad how people are coming to think that life-ruining drugs like marijuana are harmless and that medicine that relieves people from terrible pain should be outlawed.

    • Whiteriotalex

      The facts are listed, and are accurate. Its not your fault your brainwashed by the pharmaceutical industry. Marijuana doesn’t ruin your life, you ruin your life. Go take some “legal narcotics” you pill popping moron.

    • 2,328+743 = 3071 prescription related deaths.

      3071/989( illegal narcotics) means a ratio of 3.105.

      Thats actually a 310% difference.

      Whats sad is your HORRIBLE MATH SKILLS

  16. Fentanyl is highly addictive. Once a user becomes addicted to Fentanyl, they lose the ability to make rational decisions and control their drug use. Prolonged Fentanyl abuse destroys the natural pleasure centers in the brain, making it difficult for the Fentanyl addict to experience positive feelings without using drugs.
    Because of its potency, attempts to stop using drugs without entering Fentanyl rehab will be unsuccessful. Little by little, Fentanyl addicts find themselves losing interest in family, friends, work and life goals so that they can spend all of their time finding and abusing Fentanyl.
    Fentanyl Addiction

  17. he war on some drugs has failed. Locking up people for marijuana while oxycontin is legal makes no sense. Locking up huge numbers of people for private …

  18. It also causes many side effects which includes symptoms like nausea, vomiting, estreñimiento, upsetstomach, dizziness, somnolencia, blurred vision, dry mouth, shallow breathing, slow heart rate, fainting,light headedness, confusion, fear, unusual behavior or thoughts, mood swings, loss of appetite, difficulty in urinating, dark urine, clay colored stool, jaundice and convulsions or seizure.
    http://www.medical-rights.com/es/effective-opioid-drugs-for-chronic-pain/

  19. Twenty-five percent of Americans take multiple prescription drugs every day. … as legal, prescription drugs (6-times more than those Americans killed in the Vietnam War) … crash gets more media attention and governmental scrutiny than the 300 …. fraud being perpetrated against the American people, propped up by illegal …

  20. Twenty-five percent of Americans take multiple prescription drugs every day. … as legal, prescription drugs (6-times more than those Americans killed in the Vietnam War) … crash gets more media attention and governmental scrutiny than the 300 …. fraud being perpetrated against the American people, propped up by illegal …

  21. Twenty-five percent of Americans take multiple prescription drugs every day. … as legal, prescription drugs (6-times more than those Americans killed in the Vietnam War) … crash gets more media attention and governmental scrutiny than the 300 …. fraud being perpetrated against the American people, propped up by illegal …

  22. thanks good informations

  23. Thanks. Good informations…

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