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Top 10 Facts About Prescription Drug Abuse in America

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Script written by Sean Harris From high profile cases to everyday issues, prescription drugs are continually causing problems across the USA. Welcome to WatchMojo News, the weekly series from where we break down news stories that might be on your radar. In this instalment, we're counting down 10 crucial facts you should know about America's prescription drug addiction. Special thanks to our user

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Script written by Sean Harris

Top 10 Facts About America’s Prescription Drug Addiction

From high profile cases to everyday issues, prescription drugs are continually causing problems across the USA. Welcome to WatchMojo News, the weekly series from where we break down news stories that might be on your radar. In this instalment, we’re counting down 10 crucial facts you should know about America’s prescription drug addiction.

#10: What Is America’s Prescription Drug Problem?
The Epidemic

For most of us, when we discuss ‘drug problems,’ we’re likely thinking of recreational substances, illicit drugs and criminal underworlds. However, in 2016 America finds itself amidst an epidemic caused by prescription drugs. The number of people routinely using opioids, antidepressants and other pharmacy-bought products has steadily risen over recent years, creating a generation hooked on legal, accessible drugs. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the amount of prescription opioids sold in the US has almost quadrupled since 1999, and the amount of deaths caused by them has also increased four-fold. The World Health Organization has reported that the problem threatens “the achievements of modern medicine.”

#9: What Kind of Prescription Drugs Are Being Abused?
The Pills

A prescription opioid is given as a painkiller, including medications such as hydrocodone, oxycodone and codeine. According to the National Institute onDrug Abuse, hydrocodone is particularly prescribed for injury-related pain or dental problems. Codeine use is also common, as the drug is given for mild aches and pains and in certain cases, is even available without a prescription. However, while these drugs are effective when taken according to the directions, these recommendations are increasingly ignored and the substances are abused – to disastrous effect. Users take more of the drug than they should, more often than they should, or else take drugs prescribed for somebody else.

#8: What Are the Consequences of Prescription Drug Addictions?
The Overdose

A reason often cited for regular use of prescription drugs is that the user feels as though it helps him or her maintain focus. However, in December 2015 CNBC reported that National Safety Council survey found that as much as 80% of Indiana employers had come into contact with prescription drug abuse through their employees – a statistic that’s likely to be representative ofAmerica as a whole. Estimates claim the US economy is hit for $60 billion annually as a result, with almost 50% of that attributed to workplace costs such as productivity loss. Even more alarming is the ever-increasing number ofprescription drug-related deaths. Business Insider says that “these fatalities now outnumber deaths from heroin and cocaine combined,” and Drugwatch reports that around 50 Americans die daily from prescription painkiller overdoses.

#7: Who Are the Biggest Abusers of Prescription Drugs?
The Elderly

The older generation accounts for a significant percentage of prescription drugaddicts, with experts believing that the problem lies with a misconception that prescriptions are automatically safe. In 2013, US doctors wrote 55 million opioid prescriptions and 28.4 million prescriptions for depressants for patients over 65 years of age. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the number of seniors dependent on or misusing prescriptionpainkillers in 2012 is more than 2.5 times higher than it was in 2002: increasing from 132, 000 to 336, 000 people.

#6: What Are the Most High Profile Cases of Abuse?
The Celebrities The problem was thrust under the spotlight in April 2016, following the death of pop music icon Prince. Soon after his death – and prior to the release of the official autopsy results, it was heavily speculated that the artist, who was 57 when he died, had become dependent on powerful opioids ever he had corrective hip surgery in 2010. Other famous deaths with links to prescriptiondrug addiction include Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s in 2014, Whitney Houston’s in 2012, and Michael Jackson’s in 2009. A toxicology report into the 2008 death of actor Heath Ledger also concluded death following abuse of prescribed medications, while Monica Dannemann, the last girlfriend of legendary musician Jimi Hendrix, disclosed that he had taken 18 times the recommended dosage of her prescription sleeping pills before he died in September 1970.

#5: Are Prescription Drugs More Dangerous than Illegal Drugs?
The Deaths Reports began to emerge that prescription drugs posed more of a danger toAmerica than illegal substances in the 21st century. According to the Pew Health Group, in 2009 the number of people killed by drug poisoning surpassed motor vehicle fatalities for the first time ever – due in large part to increased prescriptions; in 2009 almost 500,000 emergency room visits were due toprescription drug abuse – costing between $60 and $80 billion; and in 2010, more people were addicted to painkillers than they were to cocaine, heroin, stimulants and sedatives combined. In 2014, Psychology Today summed up the statistics this way: “contrary to popular mythology, prescription drugs are more lethal than illegal or street drugs.”

#4: How Did Prescription Drugs Become So Prevalent?
The History The prescription drugs boom happened about midway through the twentieth century. Valium was introduced in 1963, as one of the first aggressively advertised drugs. It became the first ever drug to reach $1 billion in sales, with analysts estimating that more than 2 billion pills taken by Americans in 1978. Xanax arrived in 1981 as a treatment for anxiety, while a recent rise in ADHD diagnoses has resulted in increased availability of further prescriptionstimulants. The first antidepressants were introduced in the ‘50s, but the FDA only approved Prozac in the late ‘80s. In 2010, over 24.4 million prescriptions for Prozac were given in America.

#3: How Big Is the Pharmaceutical Industry?
The Profit Statista reports that the US pharmaceutical industry makes up around 40% of the global pharmaceutical market, as six out of the planet’s top 11 drugcompanies are based in America. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America describes the biopharmaceutical sector as ‘a major contributor to the US economy’, valuing it at $790 billion annually and attributing it to around 3.4 million jobs. In 2015, Forbes listed Johnson & Johnson asAmerica’s largest drug company, closely followed by Pfizer; the former has a market cap at $275.7 billion, the latter at $211.7 billion.

#2: What Role Do Doctors Play?
The Prescriptions
Since 1999, the number of opioid prescriptions issued by American doctors toadults and children has unquestionably increased. The rise can be linked towell-meaning doctors changing their approach in the 1980s and ‘90s, when more emphasis was given to relieving patients of pain. Oligoanalgesia – what the under treatment of pain is called in the scientific community – was the problem then, as more tolerance was expected from patients. However, as medicine advanced, the ability to alleviate pain was developed, and given out generously. Now, according to an estimate by the Institute of Medicine, around 100 million Americans have ‘chronic pain’ – more than a 1/3 of the country’s entire population! The numbers now seem too top heavy the other way; where once too many people were in pain, now too many are too readily diagnosed as suffering [from] it.

#1: How Will This Affect Future Generations?
The Future America’s prescription drug addiction is set to continue for years to come, though it will likely be routinely put under scrutiny with every high profile victim. However, Americans and the international community as a whole should expectprescription drugs to become increasingly difficult to obtain, as authorities and health agencies try to regain control of the situation. In October 2015, President Obama announced a plan to combat opioid abuse, labeling it a ‘national priority’. There’s huge emphasis on doctors and their prescribing painkillers and antidepressants appropriately, but the general public also has a responsibility torecognize the dangers. For physicians, doing what’s best for the patient is a balancing act achieved a little more easily with understanding from the other side of the desk.

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