The Greatest American Tragedy – Our Society’s Love Affair with Prescription Medicine

The single largest cause of accidental death in the US is misuse of prescription drugs. This has been highlighted recently by the overdoses of multiple high profile celebrities:

Perhaps it’s time we give serious thought to how frequently we use prescription medicines.

As the owner and President of DOT Compliance Help, Inc I help trucking companies and private carriers to understand the FMCSRs and implement necessary safety controls to save lives. One important area of DOT/FMCSA compliance is Drug & Alcohol testing. When I do Drug & Alcohol training, I always mention the negative health effects of illegal use of prescription medicine. But recently someone sent me an article I thought I should comment on.

A couple years ago I attended someone else’s Drug & Alcohol training – he devoted a few slides to a wellness topic. Basically, too many people use too much medicine, and even if the doctor prescribes it, it may not always be the best thing for you. At the time, I decided to leave that topic in a wellness-training presentation and not include it in supervisor drug & alcohol training. Perhaps tomorrow I will change my slides to include a brief comment on over-use of prescription meds. I’ll have to sleep on it.

  • This Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report states nearly half of everyone in this country took prescription medication at least once in the last 30 days.
  • Here is another alarming statement from the CDC:  In the US, prescription drugs cost $234 billion in 2008; this is more than double what was spent in 1999. The story indicates new drugs and new uses for old drugs are the cause of this.

Do we really NEED all these drugs? Or is it just another bad habit?

In the weeks and months following the 1999 Columbine shooting, everyone in the US was wracked with concern; barrels of ink and hours of radio and TV-time were devoted to the topic “How do two 15-year-olds suddenly turn into mass murderers?”

One possible answer was that both of these young men had been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and had been on Ritalin or Adderall for several years, leading to extreme behavior when they entered their teens and stopped using the psychotropics. Many people and most of my friends at the time seemed to accept this as a logical answer to the question.

The theory was and is these chemicals numb children’s brains, helping them ‘cope’ with any happy or melancholy thoughts as well as restlessness. After several years of this ‘therapy’ a lot of teenagers end up with personality disorders. It’s simple; you must feel these highs and lows in order to learn to cope with them appropriately.

When children are on these drugs for years, they can be robbed of the chance to learn to deal with normal emotions. So their emotions become extreme and they sometimes act out in violent and frightening ways when they are older.

Don’t get me wrong… I’m not saying that some ADD (and other) cases should not be treated with medication; it can bring the highs and lows within normal ranges as opposed to being extreme. The question is have we gone too far?

What of the dangers to society of routine over-dependence on such substances? Are we tranquilizing geniuses and decreasing their productivity? Are we making it easier for teens to take illegal drugs? One thing is for sure; by having so many legal drugs just lying around, we make it very easy for teenagers to experiment by taking someone else’s prescription medicine.

The news story that originally brought this to top-of-mind awareness for me was this one: This tells the story of two people who used Oxycontin (illegally) – and died.

The CDC states “About 37,000 Americans died after accidentally overdosing on legal or illegal drugs in 2009”. This makes accidental drug overdose the single largest type of accidental death in the US.

“If you asked any guy on the street what the leading cause of accidental death is, they would guess gunshot or car accident… They would never imagine it’s pharmaceutical opioids (painkillers).”

“… males in their 40s and 50s who start off with a prescription for back pain and die from an accidental overdose several years later…”

So what can we do about this terrible epidemic? Unfortunately, I’m not sure EXACTLY what can be done, but I can think of a few things:

  1. Lock it up when you are using it, and throw it away when you are done with it – those half-empty bottles in the medicine cabinet are trouble waiting to happen.
  2. Include discussion of easy reliance on prescriptions in wellness training for drivers.
  3. When you go to the doctor, your FIRST goal should be to learn what the problem IS and not always assume a pill will fix it.

Please add your thoughts here. I don’t claim to be an expert, merely concerned.

About DOT Compliance Help Inc
Phone: 847-836-6063 web: e-mail DOT Compliance Help, Inc. is a full-service consulting firm specializing in the interpretation and execution of the regulations and guidelines set forth by the US Department of Transportation Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. •Mission Statement• To assist our clients in establishing proper safety management controls in order to minimize accidents, injuries, and fatalities. The ultimate goals are safer roadways for the public and increased profits for our clients. Our core consulting competencies include FMCSA Assessments (mock audits), DOT compliance training (on-site and via webinar) and custom safety plans and policies. We also hold DOT compliance workshops and conferences all across the country. Utilizing a proprietary curriculum developed by our President, Mike England, our classes cover everything you need to know about the FMCSRs, how to survive your next DOT Compliance Review, and how Comprehensive safety Analysis (CSA 2010) will affect you.

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