Yes, prescription painkillers do in fact take more lives per year than two of the hardest illegal drugs in the nation — surpassing both heroin and cocaine in their total related deaths. It all has to do with how these prescription pharmaceuticals work in the brain, and how many individuals around the country are easily acquiring them to feed their deadly habits.
Because after all, who said legal drugs were all that different from illegal drugs in many cases?
Prescription painkillers are known to ‘numb’ the pain, which is achieved by their ability to bind to brain receptors and decrease your body’s ability to process pain signals. As a result, it’s easy to enter into this ‘feel good’ state to the point of serious addiction and even physical dependence. Think similarly to a heroin user who needs to inject the drug multiple times a day in order to reach the ‘high’ that they have become accustomed to.
But let’s look beyond the basic science of how painkillers work and into the largest study on the issue of painkiller deaths, which was recently conducted by McGill University in Canada. An impressing topic that truly does deserve thorough research, researchers from the team tracked the total death stats from both heroin and cocaine, and then compared them to the painkiller death figures that they collected from numerous top sources. Published in the American Journal of Public Health, some key findings include:
- The United States and Canada are number one and two respectively per capita when it comes to opioid (painkiller) consumption.
- In just 2010, there were over 16,000 deaths resulting from painkiller use within the United States.
- Individuals addicted to and abusing painkillers often take large doses to feel a more ‘euphoric effect.’
- Such large doses can stop breathing, resulting in death.
So how is this still going on? Surely doctors must be taking precautions?
Well, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a whopping 12 million individuals were found to be using painkillers without having a valid prescription. Many of these 12 million people are simply taking them to get high. Add onto this statistic that around half of all deaths from painkillers also involve another drug, like alcohol or another pharmaceutical pill, and it’s easy to see that there is a serious problem.
And it’s also easy to see that the statistics are really here to back up the severity of the issue. One of the team researchers on the project, Nicholas King, agrees:
“Prescription painkiller overdoses have received a lot of attention in editorials and the popular press, but we wanted to find out what solid evidence is out there.”
Amid the realization that thousands die per year from prescription drugs, it’s easy to see how distorted the ‘drug system’ in the United States truly is. As thousands are arrested and thrown in jail for possession of marijuana, and missions are launched to crack down on drugs like cocaine and heroin (which are obviously real dangers as well), the medical establishment seems to turn a blind eye to pharmaceutical deaths that surpass even these notorious hard drug killers.