Prescription Drug Overdose on the Rise

An addiction to prescription painkillers is a serious one. It's not just serious because of the physical and mental consequences, which can include side effects ranging from increased sensitivity to pain (which, of course, makes so little sense) to constipation, nausea, and full-on dependence. The tendency to psychologically categorize prescription painkiller addiction as "safe" because these are drugs prescribed by doctors is one of the more serious and troubling issues that arises with prescription painkiller addictions. One of the reasons these drugs take hold and take over a user's life before he or she is even aware they are addicted is because prescription painkillers are used both medicinally and recreationally. It can be difficult for a patient to know when he or she is crossing the line into the field of addiction, especially if the patient's doctor is prescribing these kinds of pills regularly, in high doses, and for frequent use.

A recent federal study's results released in February from the CDC and the findings are scary: prescription narcotic painkiller-related deaths have climbed as the drugs have become not only more popular, but also more powerful. According to the CDC, 2012 saw 16,007 deaths officially related to the overdose of an opioid painkiller. That was triple the number of opioid painkiller-related deaths in 1999. The government placed new restrictions on drugs containing hydrocodone last year, but will the restrictions prove to help this dire situation?

In some places in the USA, "pill-mills" or, clinics with doctors who are quick to write out prescriptions for painkillers to patients who would do fine with weaker pain treatments, are standard. In West Virginia, a state deep in the painkiller addiction struggle, the initial onslaught of prescriptions for these types of drugs is said to have been related to the pain from coal mine injuries and illnesses. Purportedly, the coal mines brought the doctors into the mining towns themselves. After so many mines were shut down, the subsequent depression and anxiety is said to have driven the over-prescription of these types of drugs. The depression and anxiety set in among residents of increasingly ghostly towns with few options for work, especially for those for whom mining was or is their only marketable skill. And this is just the story for one state. Every state has its story, but the doctors keeping pill-mills running are contributing in a large part to the problem.

Thousands of people are dying each year needlessly. Many more people are having their hands held by their own doctors into addiction without any warning. What's worse is that many prescription painkiller addicts turn to harder street drugs when their pill-mills are shut down or their doctors will no longer prescribe as he or she used to. When this happens, these patients, whether suffering from any abject pain or not, usually turn to drugs like heroin for relief. The stigma against addicts, especially opioid addicts, is demoralizing and debilitating, make no mistake. But with the recent release of this information from the CDC, the conversation on prescription painkiller addiction appears to be moving from the addicts to those who are fostering the addictions, and rightfully so.


Elizabeth Seward has written about health and wellness for Discovery Health, National Geographic, How Stuff Works Health, and many other online and print publications. As a former touring rock musician, Elizabeth has firsthand experience with the struggles of substance abuse and the loss of loved ones because of it. She believes in the restorative power of yoga, meditation, talk therapy, and plant-based diets and she is an advocate for progressive drug policy reform.

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