OxyWatchdog founder Erin Marie Daly weighed in on the prescription drug abuse epidemic during Friday’s KQED Forum, a live public affairs radio program broadcast in Northern California. According to the show’s guest panel, prescription drug abuse is the fastest growing drug problem in the U.S. and is now responsible for more deaths than motor vehicle-related accidents. Additionally, emergency room visits due to misuse of prescription drugs has doubled in past 5 years to 1.2 million.
During the program, President Barack Obama’s chief drug policy advisor Gil Kerlikowske said he believes prescription drug abuse is the greatest drug problem in the U.S. today but is less visible because prescription drugs are not illicitly manufactured or smuggled across the border. He said people tend to think of these medications as naturally safe since they are pharmaceuticals despite the fact that opioid painkillers such as OxyContin, in addition to being the most highly prescribed drug in the U.S., also cause the most drug-related emergency room visits and deaths.
The government faces a unique challenging in curbing the abuse since most users are not typical drug addicts in that their addiction is unintentional and their drug of choice is often acquired legitimately. However, with the growing rate of addiction, the illicit diversion of prescription drugs is also a major problem, especially through online dispensaries which can ship and sell drugs across borders and without prescriptions.
Legitimate doctors also contribute to the problem, said Akhil Mehra, chief of psychiatry and assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at University of California San Francisco. Doctors don’t have enough time to treat problems behind pain so they turn to prescription drugs, he said during the show. The number of prescriptions being written as well as easy access to the drugs is fueling the epidemic.
Another consequence of prescription drug abuse is addicts turning to illegal street drugs, said Daly during the program.
“[My brother] died of a heroin overdose in February of 2009. He was also an OxyContin addict,” she said. “Another after-effect of becoming addicted to Oxy is that a lot of these kids are turning to harder drugs like heroin, particularly because heroin involves a lot of the same effects as OxyContin … Often times [this phenomenon], as in my brother’s case, can be fatal.”
To listen to the entire program, go here: