The recent death of singer Whitney Houston is another unwelcome reminder that America is a vast emporium of addictive prescription drugs.
Several news reports say prescription sedatives may have been involved. Americans soon may be deluged by more well-meaning quotes from experts that Houston’s death is a “wakeup call” for us to turn the corner on rampant dispensing addictive prescription narcotics.
We went through similar news cycles with the drug-impelled deaths of Michael Jackson, Heath Ledger, Anna Nicole Smith, John Belushi and a parade other stars who died from toxic drug cocktails.
We risk becoming desensitized to celebrity deaths instead of alarmed by them. In the process, we risk becoming desensitized to prescription-drug abuse as the addictive epidemic that it is. And so much of this epidemic is financed by insurance money that pays for the illicit prescriptions.
Solving our problems by gulping painkillers and sedatives isn’t new, but the levels to which we’re taking quick fixes should be alarming. The Centers for Disease Control tells us this much:
- Opiod painkillers cause more overdose deaths in the U.S. than heroin and cocaine combined.
- By 2010, enough addictive painkillers were sold to medicate every American adult with a typical 5 mg dose of hydrocodone every four hours for one month.
- Three percent of physicians accounted for 62 percent of opioid painkillers in one study.
- Drug deaths outnumber traffic fatalities for the first time in 30 years, fueled by a rise in abuse of addictive prescription drugs, notes a Los Angeles Times analysis of CDC data.
Shady doctors and pharmacies are more than glad to provide the fixes, for a fee. The profits for trafficking in prescription painkillers are so large that gangs are creating sham pharmacies whose sole purpose is to process insurer-paid prescriptions for addicts and street dealers.
Whitney Houston’s death is a tragedy, but America’s real drug problem lies with the average person who has the same easy access to painkillers, sedatives and other addictive drugs.
We’re learning from the never-ending cocaine and marijuana wars that we can keep wiping out cartels in South and Central America, but more cartels will take their place as long as stateside demand makes the immense profits worth the perceived risk.
This says something about our domestic war with prescription-drug trafficking. Yes, we must work to choke off the suppliers — sleazy pain docs, dishonest pharmacies and the like. But others will take their place.
So we must also attack the epidemic at the source: Users. This means consumer addicts, drug-buying pain patients, school kids and others. This means massively stepped-up education campaigns about the risks of overuse and consequences that can follow.
Education is a shared responsibility, especially among those with the resources to pull it off. This means the insurance and medical establishments, the business community and other stakeholders.
So when it comes to narcotic prescription drugs, maybe consumers need large doses after all: Doses of awareness and attitude change.
The author is director of communications for the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud.