The prescription painkiller epidemic continues to spiral out of control across the United States, according to a new study, which paints a frightening portrait of the deadly beast known as opiate addiction.
Researchers from Detox.net, a website dedicated to drug treatment education, recently published an interactive glimpse into the addiction of painkillers in America; one with grim revelations into the number of casualties the feel good contents of those little brown pill bottles have claimed over the past 15 years.
The study, Visualizing the Opiate Epidemic, which was compiled using the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Center for Health Statistics, finds that between 1999 and 2010, every state in the nation experienced a substantial increase in treatment admissions and overdose deaths due to prescription opiates.
Interestingly, while this trend was once predominately a problem in rural states like Wyoming and West Virginia, the popularity of prescription narcotics has now transformed this countryside crisis into a nationwide concern, claiming the lives of nearly 15,000 people a year.
“There is around as many deaths related to opiate overdose as motor vehicle accidents every year,” said lead researcher Jason Philips in a recent interview with High Times, adding that the need for more detox centers and rehab clinics increases dramatically with each passing year.
Perhaps the most socking aspect of the study is that the majority of those dying from opiate addition do not fit the stereotypical image of a junky lying in a gutter somewhere riddled with track marks. Philips says that most of the people rendered nonexistent by prescription pain medication are average middle class citizens who did not set out to get high — they just wanted to get better.
“A lot of the deaths that you’re seeing on that map are from people who initially got hooked on opiates as a result of pain, and the result of doctors prescribing them medicine,” he said, adding that their fate may have been different if a safer alternative had been available. “So many of those instances in which people got addicted to painkillers and ended up dying, were instances where they would have been much better treated with medical marijuana.”
Even with the prescription pads of physicians under the watchful eye of the Drug Enforcement Administration, stringent regulations are not enough to protect the public, said Philips, who believes getting a grip on the prescription drug problem in this country is a matter of changing public opinion and imposing legislation that treats drug addicts like sick people rather than criminals. We need to “give them a way out, a real way out through treatment and other services that end up being cheaper than incarceration for the taxpayer. That’s at least getting closer to a solution,” he said.
Although Philips agrees medical marijuana could provide patients not already addicted to prescription painkillers with an effective remedy that would keep the monkey off their back and both feet out of the grave, he says he does not have much faith in cannabis providing relief for opiate addicts. He worries the throes of addiction are simply too powerful to modify this behavior with weed; however, he admits that it is possible.
In the next ten years, Philips predicts this same study will reflect similar trends, specifically an increase in heroin deaths. “There’s been a widespread replacement of prescription opiates with heroin,” he said, adding that he expects to see a decrease in overdoses on prescription opiates and a rabid increase in fatalities as the result of heroin. “Whether the brakes will come on for that eventually… I hope so.”