The prescription drug abuse epidemic is forcing policy makers to re-evaluate America’s war on drugs, with the nation’s drug problem shifting from illicit substances to abuse of prescription painkillers that are perfectly legal, according to this article in the New York Times.
The article notes that the most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that an estimated 1.5 million people had used cocaine in the previous month, down from 2 million in 2002 and 5.8 million in the mid-1980s. Methamphetamine use has also declined in recent years, although heroin use rose slightly, to 239,000 users in 2010 from 213,000 in 2008 – likely as a result of painkiller addicts switching to the street drug.
Meanwhile, prescription painkillers are now the nation’s biggest drug problem, the article says: of the 36,450 overdose deaths in the United States in 2008, 20,044 involved a prescription drug, more than all illicit drugs combined.
Sales of prescription painkillers tripled from 1999 to 2010 — as did the number of fatal poisonings due to prescription pain medications, and enough prescription painkillers were prescribed in 2010 to medicate every American adult continually for a month, according to a recent report by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.