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Prescription drug deaths biggest 'man-made epidemic,' doctor says

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
November 15th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, associate chief of neurosurgery at Grady Memorial Hospital and CNN's chief medical correspondent, recalls hearing horror stories of prescription drug abuse in the U.S. "It's the biggest man-made epidemic in the United States. That's how a doctor in Washington State described it to me as we sat outside the state Capitol in Olympia," Gupta relates.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The doctor, Gary Franklin, medical director for Washington State's Department of Labor and Industries told Gupta many heartbreaking tales. The rationale for these stories, it seems, is that since these drugs were prescribed by a doctor, that they were harmless and even beneficial.

"I remember [Franklin] telling me about a teenager dying because he had taken too much narcotic medication after a dental procedure," Gupta says.

The most common scenario for prescription drug abuse or death is when a middle-aged man goes to his doctor complaining of back pain. The doctor prescribes a painkiller. The patient then later dies three years later from an overdose or by mixing the medication with alcohol.

More than 20,000 times a year in the U.S., or every 19 minutes, someone dies from an accidental overdose. Overdoses are now the No. 1 cause of accidental deaths in the United States, even surpassing traffic accidents.

This is partially the fault of physicians, who are far too quick to prescribe something to dull the pain in lieu of addressing the key physical issues. The number of pain prescriptions has increased an astronomical 600 percent from 1997-2007, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"In the United States, we now prescribe enough pain pills to give every man, woman and child one every four hours, around the clock, for three weeks."

Accidental drug overdoses receive much play in the media when a celebrity dies from one, such as actor Heath Ledger, "but truth is, it's our friends, neighbors and yes, our own family members who are dying."

Former President Bill Clinton was among the first to speak to the doctor about this shameful national phenomenon. "Two of his friends had both lost sons, he told me. The cause: accidental overdose.

"I will never forget how he put it. 'Look, no one thinks having a few beers and an Oxycontin is a good idea, but you also don't expect to die.' I knew at that moment we needed to do our part in the media to shine a bright light on this issue and find solutions that work."

Eighty percent of the world's pain pills are consumed in the United States, according to 2011 congressional testimony from the American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians.

While these medication provide relief, "culturally, we have become increasingly intolerant of even minor amounts of pain and increasingly comfortable with taking heavy-duty medications."

The effectiveness of most painkillers begins to wear off after weeks and months of use, and so the patient typically wants more.
"If you are awake you may not notice it, but if you fall asleep with too many of these pills in your system, you never wake up. Add alcohol, and the problem is exponentially worse. People who take pain or sleeping pills and drink a couple glasses of wine are playing Russian roulette."

Gupta will host the documentary "Deadly Dose," addressing these problems on CNN this Sunday. Check your local listings for times.

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