Have a problem? Just pop a pill. That may well be a glib characterization of the nation’s favorite health care remedy, but there’s an alarming epidemic just beneath the surface.
More Americans die from prescription drug overdoses than all illegal drugs combined and the ones that are deemed accidental outnumber highway traffic fatalities each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It all amounts to a senseless death every 19 minutes, or about 27,000 annually. That’s pretty shocking.
Here’s another harsh wakeup call: The co-author of a CDC study in 2008 reported that most people who OD on prescription drugs don’t even have a prescription for the substance that eventually took their life. More than 12 million Americans popped a pill last year just for kicks, so it’s not surprising that sales of prescription drugs actually tripled between 2000 and 2009.
The recent death of pop-singer icon Whitney Houston at the age of 48 serves as a sobering reminder not only about how dangerous it is to take multiple prescription drugs, but also mix them with alcohol. While her exact cause of death is left to conjecture until a toxicology report is complete, much like it was when “Rehab” singer Amy Winehouse’s suddenly died last summer at just 27 years old, there’s no escaping the repeated telling of cautionary tales involving celebrities who numb their pain or feed an addiction. Fame and fortune often enables people to trade their problems for more complicated ones.
At the time of her death, Houston reportedly took several popular drugs: the anti-anxiety medication Xanax and antibiotic amoxicillin for an upper respiratory infection, both of which we know require a prescription, and Ibuprofen, an over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication. She also was seen drinking champagne and looking disheveled in the days leading up to her death.
Other high-profile celebs whose deaths in recent years were traced to misuse of prescription drugs or alcohol include the so-called King of Pop Michael Jackson and Playboy model Anna Nicole Smith, as well as actors Heath Ledger and Brittany Murphy. Long ago, those casualties included everyone from sex symbol Marilyn Monroe to rock stars Jimi Hendrix, Elvis Presley and Keith Moon.
This topic hits close to home for me not only because I’ve been writing more about pharmacy benefits management in recent months, but also because a lifelong kinship with fellow musicians – some of whom I performed with who lost the battle with drugs or alcohol. I also have taken my fair share of prescriptions and OTC meds through the years. So I know how powerful these substances can be. One parting thought is that I hope the public becomes better educated about the seriousness of abusing or mixing pills and alcohol. We don’t need any more senseless deaths.