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A drug epidemic, yes, but focused on painkilling prescription drugs

Persons who believe that the use of illicit drugs like heroin and cocaine is of epidemic proportions in the United States and constitutes a health care problem of unprecedented magnitude should consider this fact: Overdoses of medications duly prescribed by doctors annually result in more users' fatalities than is the case with all deaths related to heroin and cocaine combined.

In short, there is indeed a drug epidemic in the United States, but it much more centrally owes to what the Los Angeles Times calls "a surge in painkiller prescriptions ... across the nation."

And that gives rise to questions centering on medical malpractice and egregious medication errors. Why are so many narcotic-derived painkilling drugs being liberally prescribed by doctors across the country, especially in light of clear knowledge of their widespread adverse impact, and why are so many people dying?

A recent study authored by scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not directly address those concerns so much as it chronicles the sharp uptick in the problem. The study, which was recently published in the American Medical Association journal, notes that more than 38,000 people died of drug overdoses in the United States in 2010, which marked the 11th straight year of rising fatalities.

Tellingly, nearly 60 percent of those overdoses involved prescription drugs, with about 75 percent of those being painkillers such as Percocet and Oxycontin.

Clearly, and given such a dismally notable trend, more needs to be done to address this national problem. Remedial measures would reasonably seem to require that a number of doctors reeducate themselves on drugs in the opioid family and more pay more careful attention to the prescriptions they write.

Source: Los Angeles Times, "Fatal drug overdoses in U.S. increase for 11th consecutive year," Joseph Serna, Feb. 19, 2013

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