The misuse and abuse of prescription medications is a growing problem among young adults. One in five teens in America reports to having used prescription drugs to get high, and more people abuse prescription medication than heroin, cocaine and ecstasy combined. Watch a clip from Current TV's documentary, The OxyContin Express, to see how easily available the pills are.
Current TV correspondent Mariana Van Zeller explains that Florida is the largest state in the country without a prescription drug monitoring program. "It means that people from all over the country are going to Florida. It's sort of become the source state of these prescription pills," Mariana says. "It's known as the Columbia of prescription pills.
"A bottle of pills that would cost you $500 at a pain clinic in Florida, you can sell it for $5,000 in Kentucky or Massachusetts," she adds.
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Mixing medications can be deadly. Most people don’t realize that the term “medications” includes over-the-counter drugs, prescription pills, vitamins and herbal supplements. It’s crucial to tell your doctor everything you’re putting into your body because drug interactions can have terrible consequences.
Dr. Michael Negrete, CEO of the Pharmacy Foundation of California, states that the greatest risks come from the fact that most people think that non-prescription drugs are not dangerous, which is not true. Acetaminophen is a common ingredient in many drugs, and if people do not pay close attention, they can easily take too much of it and cause serious liver damage. In fact, 68 percent of liver failures are due to an excess of acetaminophen.
Polypharmacy is a term used to describe individuals who take various medications for different ailments, often obtained from a number of doctors, specialists and pharmacies. Among the many dangers is that the medications can duplicate effects or cause negative interactions. Medications often thin the blood, which can endanger a patient’s life during surgery. Dr. Negrete urges, “People really need to make sure that they communicate before they medicate.”
In the last 20 years, the number of Americans who died from accidental overdoses rose by an astounding 3,200 percent. The main culprit is alcohol, a central nervous system depressant, which interacts with prescription medications and can cause heart attack, accidental overdose and other hazardous reactions. It is crucial that patients follow instructions on their medication to avoid dangerous and often deadly consequences.
Coffee and Painkillers?
One non-fat latte and a … Vicodin? An Orange County, California doctor was recently indicted on charges of dealing dangerous prescription drugs at a popular coffee chain.
“How did we get to this point?” Dr. Travis asks. “It’s inexcusable. The reason 2 million [Americans] are addicted to [prescription] painkillers [is because] someone has to prescribe them. The great majority are being prescribed by doctors who aren’t selling them at [coffee shops].”
Addiction to opiods, the most commonly abused painkillers, has tripled in the last decade.
“If you go to the doctor – and this is a pet peeve of mine – and you’ve sprained your ankle, there are plenty of opportunities where you’ll get a prescription for opiod medicine,” Dr. Travis says. “But I am not going to prescribe you 50 Oxycontin for an ankle sprain, because the only thing that can happen are bad things.
“Understand, these are dangerous medicines, and it’s easy to become addicted to them, so be careful,” Dr. Travis adds.
Painkiller Addiction Warning Signs
• Dramatic mood swings
• Change in sleep patterns
• Changes in social behavior
• Increased sensitivity to sights, sounds and emotions
• New confusion and/or forgetfulness
• Seeking prescriptions from multiple doctors
“We’re all in this together,” Dr. Travis says. “If you’re suffering from this, we’re not blaming you. We’re just saying get out there and seek help before this can really take you down a line you can never get off of. These drugs can be deadly.”
“Prescription pain medications kill twice as many people as cocaine [and] five times as many people as heroin every single year,” Dr. Travis says.
“Someone dies every 19 minutes from some sort of misuse of prescription drugs,” CNN’s chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, adds.
Osteopathic physician Dr. Lisa Tseng has been charged with three counts of second-degree murder after three of her patients, including a college senior named Joey Rovero, allegedly died from prescription drug overdoses. Dr. Tseng is currently awaiting trial for the charges against her.
Learn about April's fight to end prescription drug abuse by supporting the National Coalition Against Prescription Drug Abuse (NCAPDA).
• Pediatrician Dr. Jim Sears' tips for preventing an accidental drug poisoning.
Dr. Gupta has been on the frontlines of the investigation into painkillers being overprescribed across the United States.
“What we found, as part of this investigation, is that if you just took [the prescribed] pain medications alone, forgetting all the anti-anxiety medications or other pills, and you looked at the number of prescriptions, it could give everyone in this country enough pain medications to take every four hours for a month,” Dr. Gupta explains.
“Most people have no idea how dangerous this is," Dr. Gupta adds. "We talk about celebrities [and] we talk about addicts. [Prescription drug overdoses are] happening to real people who are neither one of those things. Addicts, in some ways, have more tolerance to these medications," Dr. Gupta continues.
“It is the people who take these [medicines] for the first time and combine it, thinking [since] a doctor gave this to me, it's fine. I don't need to worry about it," Dr. Gupta says. "And they do."