Drug abuse now kills more Americans per year than homicide or car accidents and is now the fastest-growing cause of accidental death in the U.S., according to recent studies. But the term “drug abuse” is broad. If you delve a bit deeper, you’ll see that much of this war is now fought on different turfs: the doctor’s office, your local pharmacy and even college campuses, where the use of prescription pills is rampant—whether it’s to help cram for exams or to earn extra cash.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one person dies from a drug overdose every 19 minutes. In fact, exactly 28,754 Americans died after accidentally overdosing on legal or illegal drugs in 2009—and approx. half of those deaths involved prescription painkillers. What’s more, for every person who dies from prescription meds, there are 32 more emergency room visits. The numbers are so grim that some experts have now declared prescription drug abuse an epidemic.
The soaring increase in sales of prescription painkillers explains most of the deaths. In 1999, a total of 2 kg of such drugs were sold for every 10,000 people; as of 2010, that number had jumped to about 7 kg. According to the CDC, opioid analgesics, such as methadone, hydrocodone and oxycodone are the most common cause of drug poisoning.