Death from Prescription Drugs: The New Epidemic Sweeping Across America
October 26, 2011
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By Dr. Mercola
Death by medicine is a 21st-century epidemic, and America's "war on drugs" is clearly directed at the wrong enemy!
Prescription drugs are now killing far more people than illegal drugs, and while most major causes of preventable deaths are declining, those from prescription drug use are increasing, an analysis of recently released data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) by the Los Angeles Times revealed.
The Times analysis of 2009 death statistics, the most recent available, showed:
- For the first time ever in the US, more people were killed by drugs than motor vehicle accidents
- 37,485 people died from drugs, a rate fueled by overdoses on prescription pain and anxiety medications, versus 36,284 from traffic accidents
- Drug fatalities more than doubled among teens and young adults between 2000 and 2008, and more than tripled among people aged 50 to 69
Again, these drug-induced fatalities are not being driven by illegal street drugs; the analysis found that the most commonly abused prescription drugs like OxyContin, Vicodin, Xanax and Soma now cause more deaths than heroin and cocaine combined.
'Pharmageddon' Is Upon Us
Pharmageddon1 is "the prospect of a world in which medicines and medicine produce more ill-health than health, and when medical progress does more harm than good" -- and it is no longer a prospect but fully upon us. Those most at risk from dying from this new drug crisis are people you would least expect; the analysis revealed the death toll is highest among people in their 40s, but all ages, from teenagers to the elderly, and all walks of life are being affected. In fact, prescription drugs are now the preferred "high" for many, especially teens, as they are typically used legally, which eliminates the stigma of being a "junkie."
And even if you don't have your own prescription, drugs of all kinds can be found in the nearest medicine cabinet in most homes.
Yet, these drugs are also now being sold on the black market and on street corners, where people who have run out of prescriptions are willing to pay upwards of $80 a pill to get their fix.
Many become addicted after using the drugs for headaches or back pain, and teens are increasingly taking the pills from their parents to use recreationally, under the false assumption that they are not dangerous.
As written in the Baltimore Sun:2
"According to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, prescription drugs are second to marijuana as the drug of choice for today's teens. In fact, seven of the top 10 drugs used by 12th-graders were prescription drugs.
More than 40 percent of high school seniors reported that painkillers are 'fairly' or 'very' easy to get. They also reported that they believed that if they were to get caught, there was less shame attached to the use of prescription drugs than to street drugs. This mirrors the perceptions of their parents, who when queried said that they felt prescription drugs were a safer alternative to drugs typically sold by a drug dealer."
How Many Are Dying From Prescription Drugs?
Nearly 20 percent of Americans have used prescription drugs for non-medicinal reasons, three-quarters of whom may be abusing them. Legal prescription drug abuse is a silent epidemic, and is part of the reason why the modern American medical system has become the leading cause of death and injury in the United States. Authored in two parts by Gary Null, PhD, Carolyn Dean, MD ND, Martin Feldman, MD, Debora Rasio, MD, and Dorothy Smith, PhD, the comprehensive Death by Medicine article described in excruciating detail how everything from medical errors to adverse drug reactions to unnecessary procedures caused more harm than good.
Seven years after the original article was written, an analysis in the New England Journal of Medicine3 on November 25, 2010 piqued my interest -- the researchers found that, despite efforts to improve patient safety in the past few years, the health care system hasn't changed much at all. So, earlier this year, I updated the original Death by Medicine article, which, unfortunately, shows more of the same:
- In a June 2010 report in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, study authors said that in looking over records4 that spanned from 1976 to 2006 (the most recent year available) they found that, of 62 million death certificates, almost a quarter-million deaths were coded as having occurred in a hospital setting due to medication errors.
- An estimated 450,000 preventable medication-related adverse events occur in the U.S. every year.
- The costs of adverse drug reactions5 to society are more than $136 billion annually -- greater than the total cost of cardiovascular or diabetic care.
- Adverse drug reactions cause injuries or death in one of five hospital patients.
- The reason there are so many adverse drug events in the U.S.6 is that so many drugs are used and prescribed – and many patients receive multiple prescriptions at varying strengths, some of which may counteract each other or cause more severe reactions when combined.
There are numerous repercussions to a society that eats, breathes, and sleeps prescription medications, not the least of which is its impact on children. Between 2001 and 2008, there was a 36 percent increase in hospital admissions,7 and a 28 percent increase in emergency room visits, among children age five and younger who had accidentally ingested medication. ER visits for ingestion of prescription opioid painkillers, such as Oxycodone, increased 101 percent!
And in 2009, there were nearly 4.6 million drug-related visits to U.S. emergency rooms nationwide,8 with more than half due to adverse reactions to prescription medications – most of which were being taken exactly as prescribed.9 When you add in the growing numbers of people who are using these drugs recreationally or due to addiction, you begin to see the magnitude of the problem that the pharmaceutical industry is propagating
Unfortunately, this problem is now seriously impacting the next generation. When you were a teenager you may have snuck a beer or two at a party… nowadays teens will mix a variety of prescription pills together in a bowl and take a mouthful of them like candy! The kids think this is a safe way to get high, since they see their parents taking the same medications all the time, but it often turns out to be a literal prescription for disaster that can even be deadly.
The Real Thugs of the Drug World
The "war on drugs" has focused nearly exclusively on the illegal trafficking of drugs like cocaine, heroin, and marijuana, while the most powerful drug dealers of all -- the pharmaceutical companies -- are allowed to grow their businesses with the U.S. government's gold seal of approval.
But make no mistake – the leading pharmaceutical companies are also among the largest corporate criminals in the world, and they are really nothing more than white-collar drug dealers.
Although many fail to realize this, prescription drugs can be just as addictive as illegal drugs. In fact, in many cases there's no difference between a street drug and a prescription drug. For example, hydrocodone, a prescription opiate, is synthetic heroin. It's indistinguishable from any other heroine as far as your brain and body is concerned. So, if you're hooked on hydrocodone, you are in fact a good-old-fashioned heroin addict
But aside from the nature of their business, fraud, kickbacks, price-setting, bribery, and illegal sales activities are all par for the course for big-name drug companies. Last year I set out to investigate some of the criminal activities that some of the largest pharmaceutical companies had been convicted of lately, and the amount of gross misconduct, fraud and deceit I found was so insidious, so massive, and so overwhelming that it shocked even me.
You can read the grim details in full on the article, but here is just a sampling of what the top drug companies are up to:
- Merck: With a long list of deaths to its credit, and more than $5.5 billion in judgments and fines levied against it, it was five years before Merck made its $30-billion recall of the painkiller Vioxx that I warned my readers that it might be a real killer for some people. After the drug was withdrawn, and 60,000 had already died, Merck picked up the pieces painlessly by getting a new drug fast-tracked and on the market.
That drug is Gardasil, a vaccine that so far has been linked to thousands of adverse events and at least 49 unexplained deaths. It's a situation that the FDA and CDC have been denying repeatedly, keeping their heads buried in the sand even as the adverse reports mount.
- Baxter: Dozens of recalls of products that caused deaths and injuries, at least 11 different guilty pleas to fraud and illegal sales activity, more than 200 lawsuits – many of them stemming from selling AIDS-tainted blood to hemophiliacs – and more than $1.3 billion in criminal fines and civil penalties.
- Pfizer: In the largest health care fraud settlement in history, Pfizer was ordered to pay $2.3 billion to resolve criminal and civil allegations that the company illegally promoted uses of four of its drugs, including the painkiller Bextra, the antipsychotic Geodon, the antibiotic Zyvox, and the anti-epileptic Lyrica.
How Can You Avoid Being Killed by a Prescription Drug?
There is a risk of side effects every time you take a prescription drug. No one (except for those who intentionally overdose) expects these medications to kill them, but they can do just that, and it happens far more often than you might think! In a study recently released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA),10 officials emphasized that people should not assume there's no risk in prescribed medicines. The truth is, the only way to avoid all risk, including death, from prescription drugs is to not take them at all.
It is your body, not your doctor's and not your pharmacist's, so it is up to you to make the decision of what drugs to take, if any. Be SURE you are aware of the risks of any medication prescribed to you, and weigh them against any possible benefit. Then you can make a well-informed decision of whether it's a risk you're willing to take.
Of course, of paramount importance is also taking control of your health so you can stay well naturally, without the use of drugs or even frequent conventional medical care. If you adhere to a healthy lifestyle, you most likely will never need medications in the first place. This includes:
- Proper Food Choices
For a comprehensive guide on which foods to eat and which to avoid, see my nutrition plan. Generally speaking, you should be looking to focus your diet on whole, unprocessed foods (vegetables, meats, raw dairy, nuts, and so forth) that come from healthy, sustainable, local sources, such as a small organic farm not far from your home.
For the best nutrition and health benefits, you will want to eat a good portion of your food raw. Personally, I aim to eat about 80-85 percent of my food raw, including raw eggs and humanely raised organic animal products that have not been raised on a CAFO (confined animal feeding operation).
Nearly as important as knowing which foods to eat more of is knowing which foods to avoid, and topping the list is fructose. Sugar, and fructose in particular, acts as a toxin in and of itself, and as such drive multiple disease processes in your body, not the least of which is insulin resistance, a major cause of accelerated aging.
- Comprehensive Exercise Program, including High-Intensity Exercise like Peak Fitness
Even if you're eating the healthiest diet in the world, you still need to exercise to reach the highest levels of health, and you need to be exercising effectively, which means including not only core-strengthening exercises, strength training, and stretching but also high-intensity activities into your rotation. High-intensity interval-type training boosts human growth hormone (HGH) production, which is essential for optimal health, strength and vigor. I've discussed the importance of Peak Fitness for your health on numerous occasions.
- Stress Reduction and Positive Thinking
You cannot be optimally healthy if you avoid addressing the emotional component of your health and longevity, as your emotional state plays a role in nearly every physical disease -- from heart disease and depression, to arthritis and cancer. Effective coping mechanisms are a major longevity-promoting factor in part because stress has a direct impact on inflammation, which in turn underlies many of the chronic diseases that kill people prematurely every day. Meditation, prayer, social support, and exercise are all viable options that can help you maintain emotional and mental equilibrium.
- Proper Sun Exposure to Optimize Vitamin D
We have long known that it is best to get your vitamin D from sun exposure, and if at all possible, I strongly urge you to make sure you're getting out in the sun on a daily basis. There is preliminary evidence suggesting that oral vitamin D may not provide the identical benefits, although it's still better than none at all.
Just keep in mind that it's really best to get ALL your vitamin D from the sun. It appears that vitamin D plays a crucial role in sulfur metabolism11 and when you swallow it orally it may not have the same benefit as getting it from the sun.
- Take High-Quality Animal-Based Omega-3 Fats
Animal-based omega-3 fat is a strong factor in helping people live longer, and many experts believe that it is likely the predominant reason why the Japanese are the longest-lived race on the planet.
- Avoid as Many Chemicals, Toxins, and Pollutants as Possible
This includes tossing out your toxic household cleaners, soaps, personal hygiene products, air fresheners, bug sprays, lawn pesticides, and insecticides, just to name a few, and replacing them with non-toxic alternatives.