The same week that Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock launched an advertising campaign against prescription drug abuse, Time magazine reported that accidental overdoses of prescription painkillers kill more Americans than cocaine and heroin combined.
Nationally, overdoses on opioid prescription painkillers (e.g. oxycontin, hydrocodone) are the No. 1 suspect in the steep rise of fatal accidental drug overdoses in the United States, according to Time. In 1990, fewer than 6,000 Americans died of accidental drug poisonings; in 2007, the death toll was 27,658. Not coincidentally, sales of opioids have skyrocketed during this period as new drugs in this category have been introduced and marketed. Oxycodone, for example, saw sales increase 700 percent, according to Time.
Back in Montana, prescription drugs are a factor in more than 300 deaths per year, according to state data.
Bullock organized the statewide drug abuse prevention campaign, including print and broadcast ads and a website: invisibleepidemic.com.
His commercials are a wake up call. In one, he says: “Parents, please talk to your kids because prescription drugs should save lives, not end them.” Elsewhere, the website warns that one in 10 Montana teens surveyed said they had abused prescription drugs.
However, the most riveting video tells the story of a Billings mother who lost her 22-year-old son to prescription drug addiction and now is raising her fatherless grandson. In another video, a Billings doctor describes how he slipped into addiction by starting with just half a hydrocodone pill from a sample pack. His recovery included repeated treatment and relapses, and two years of being jobless.
Like all drug prevention and misuse efforts, Bullock’s gives special attention to protecting youth. But prescription drug misuse and abuse isn’t only a teen problem.
“Contrary to stereotype, the people most at risk in this epidemic are not the usual pill popping suspects — the dorm rats and users of street drugs,” Time reported. “Rather, they’re so-called naive users in the 35-64 age group — mostly baby boomers, with their aching bodies and their long romance with pharmaceutical chemistry.”
Many people who get addicted start out taking prescription painkillers for legitimate medical reasons. But instead of stopping when their pain or other medical problem subsided, they kept using and found refills easy to obtain.
There’s a lot of good information on invisibleepidemic.com. Those who need help with addiction may click on “get help” and then click on “state approved chemical dependency treatment programs” for a list of Montana providers. The treatment program list is organized by city, but not in alphabetical order.
Addiction to prescription drugs is especially insidious. These drugs are medicines, intended to heal and help. They usually come through trusted sources, doctors and pharmacies. Yet when misused, these substances can be as addictive and lethal as any sold illegally on the street.
Kudos to Bullock for getting the word out. Montanans need to have a continuing conversation about this public health threat — just as we have spoken out and acted against methamphetamine abuse.
As Bullock said last week in Billings, “Prescription drugs are important medications. Used correctly, they can alleviate a tremendous amount of suffering. But when they are misused, they can also create a tremendous amount of pain and destroy lives.”