Sanjay Gupta started an insightful segment on prescription drug deaths from so-called overdoses. Except, many times it's not really an overdose that causes death, but rather the combination of sometimes just one pain-killer with alcohol consumption. A relatively simple, and innocent act, which has unexpected catastrophic consequences. The segment was titled "Let's end the prescription drug death epidemic."
Two of his friends had both lost sons, he told Gupta. The cause: accidental overdose.
As Bill Clinton said:
"Look, no one thinks having a few beers and an Oxycontin is a good idea, but you also don't expect to die." I knew at that moment we needed to do our part in the media to shine a bright light on this issue and find solutions that work.
Sounding the alarm on the dangers of legitimate pill use versus deliberate prescription drug abuse, was the central theme of the CNN documentary. Deliberate prescription drug abuse is most commonly seen among teens, who attend
"pill parties," at which students would take unlabeled pills from a large bowl full of drugs, including Xanax, Oxycontin and Ecstasy.
However, the accidental overdose deaths covered by Sanjay Gupta mostly were cases where a medical problem precipitated the continued use of painkillers that led to addictions. These cases typically involved people in their 40s.
In fact, males in their 40s and 50s who start off with a prescription for back pain and die from an accidental overdose several years later are dying in significant numbers.
"Could you imagine, a worker that popped their back, and we started to put them on (pain) medication and three years later they were dead?" Dr. Alex Cahana, the chief of pain medicine at the University of Washington, told CNN. "That's devastating."
For years, car crashes were the leading cause of accidental death in the United States. Not anymore. Today, drug overdoses hold the top spot. Drug fatalities have doubled in the last 10 years, and prescription painkillers like Vicodin and Oxycontin cause more deaths than cocaine and heroin combined.
Dr. Paul Cristo, a practicing physician and associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, division of pain medicine says this:
We do have an epidemic of uncontrolled pain in the United States and, in fact, the world. I mean, about a third of the population in the United States suffers from uncontrolled pain. That's huge.
So, you know, at the same time, we've got an epidemic of pain. We do have a rise in the number of people who, unfortunately, are dying from opioid prescription overdoses.
Yet, Sanjay Gupta has this startling statistic about Prescription drug use in the US:
Distribution of morphine, the main ingredient in popular painkillers, increased 600% from 1997-2007, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
80% of the world's pain pills are consumed right here in the United States, according to 2011 congressional testimony from the American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians.
As Sanjay Gupta says:
I have traveled the world and seen problems so intransigent that I thought solutions would never come. With accidental deaths due to prescription drugs, however, we have an opportunity to fix the problem and end this large man-made epidemic.
Databases in Florida and California have been created to flag for doctor shopping among patients and to weed out the doctors who over-prescribe. It's a handy tool for pharmacists, but will not tackle the innocent minor intake, that combined with a little alcohol can have deadly consequences. Only a better educated patient and effective doctor warnings will alleviate these all too common accidental reasons that young people die in their sleep from respiratory failure.