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Drugs shouldn’t be measured by the ton

You don’t have to be a psychic, a DEA agent or a brilliant rocket scientist to know that our nation faces an epidemic that threatens to erode the fabric of many American families.

But it may not hurt to be a mathematician to calculate the sheer magnitude to which prescription drug abuse has grown.

A recent in depth analysis by the Associated Press confirmed what most of us already knew: that pain medication is far too prescribed, far too available and far too addictive.

Think about this for a second:

“Nationwide, pharmacies received and ultimately dispensed the equivalent of 69 tons of pure oxycodone and 42 tons of pure hydrocodone in 2010, the last year for which statistics are available. That’s enough to give 40 5-mg Percocets and 24 5-mg Vicodins to every person in the United States.”

That sounds like a drug problem of epic proportions.

All you have to do is watch the news, read a newspaper or search the Internet. Prescription drugs are surpassing all others in levels of abuse and the explosion is no longer confined to here in Appalachia.

The AP report shows that abuse is growing at staggering rates across the nation, often with deadly results.

“Opioid pain relievers, the category that includes oxycodone and hydrocodone, caused 14,800 overdose deaths in 2008 alone, and the death toll is rising,” according to the AP story.

Sales of these pills have increased five or tenfold from 2000 to 2010. Some areas of the country have seen increases of more than 500 percent.

What has caused this epidemic? It depends who you ask but, regardless, there is plenty of blame to go around.

Pharmaceutical companies, pill mills, legitimate physicians and drug dealers alike all play their role. But the largest blame may fall on us, as individuals.

We have gotten pill happy as a society, over medicating ourselves for everything.

Doctors perpetuate it by prescribing antibiotics for any sort of ailment. Patients ask for it by seeking medication for every little ache and pain. Essentially, we have gotten spoiled and throw narcotics into our system at the drop of a hat.

So how do we fix it? If I were smart enough to have those answers I’d be sitting on a beach somewhere enjoying an early retirement.

But the first step is shutting down doctors who are more concerned with cash than patient health. The approach also has to center around better control over the distribution of these powerful narcotics and treatment of those who are addicted.

According to the recent exposé, “In 2006, only 20 states had prescription drug monitoring programs aimed at tracking patients. Now 40 do, but many aren’t linked together, so abusers can simply go to another state when they’re flagged in one state’s system. There is no federal monitoring of prescription drugs at the patient level.”

This is a huge hole in trying to prevent this epidemic, especially areas of the country like our region where state lines are just a few minutes’ drive.

The other gap in effectively addressing this problem is a lack of viable treatment facilities that take a holistic approach to helping recovering addicts rebuild their lives.

The epidemic is clear. The data is compiled. The statistics are staggering.

Now we have to do something about it.


Michael Caldwell is publisher of The Tribune. To reach him, call (740) 532-1445 ext. 24 or by e-mail at mike.caldwell@irontontribune.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeCaldwell_IT.