Thursday, April 19, 2012

Overdoses Are at Record Levels

A few weekends ago, we got a call to let us know that one of our favorite patients had been found dead – presumably an opiate overdose.  He was a patient I had known for about 15 years but he had never wanted to take his disease seriously.  Initially he came in for routine family practice problems.  He was funny and engaging, but even at the first visit it was obvious he was drinking too much at times.  He didn’t care back then because he was young and handsome.  His wife was sticking with him and she didn’t fuss at him too often.  He was also from a wealthy family and he had a top executive job at a major international company. He appreciated my concern about his drinking so much that when he went on his next business trip to the Philippines he bought me a personalized box of cigars. Fast forward about 15 years – he continued to drink off and on and he continued to refuse to get treatment or even go to AA.  His wife eventually got fed up and left him.  He lost his job after he got a DUI.  He needed detox from alcohol but still wouldn’t get help.  He got hooked on pain killers that he had to take for a medical condition and then he needed detox off of those.  His family all rallied around to help him, but he still didn’t think he really needed help like those “other people”. The last few months he was living alone in a small apartment.  No job, no girlfriend.  Now, he is no longer with us.  It is very sad.  He was always smart and jovial and friendly.  He just didn’t want to take care of his disease.

Recently statistics revealed that opiate overdose deaths have become so common, that in some age groups people are more likely to die of an opiate overdose than they are to die in a traffic accident. These statistics on opiate overdoses are horrendous and they are continuing to get worse….

Here are some other statistics:
  • Some areas of the US have seen opiate sales increase 16 times (1600%) over the last 10 years.
  • Opiate overdose deaths in the US have increased about 300%  over the last 10 years.
  • In 2009 there were 35,000 opiate overdoses.
  • Overdoses from prescription opiates are now more common than overdoses from Heroin and Cocaine combined.
  • Non-medical use of opiate painkillers cost insurance companies about $72.5 billion per year.
  • In 2010, the US used 69 tons of Oxycontin and 42 tons of hydrocodone.
  • Sales of OxyContin in 2008 were over $2.8 Billion.
  • The US has a higher rate of incarceration than all of the other developed nations – about 2 million prisoners.
  • About 70% of prisoners in the US are there because of an alcohol or drug addiction.
  • Less than 25% of prisoners receive any substance abuse treatment.
  • Prisoners are about 5 -8 times more likely to die of an overdose in the first few weeks after they get out of jail – they have low tolerance, they haven’t received any treatment, and they are often going back to appalling circumstances. 
  • Many times the people dying from opiate overdoses are young, bright people.  They are in the prime of their lives and they had the capacity to be happy healthy members of society.
  • My cousin Bruce died of a Heroin overdose when he was about 22.

Statistics are interesting and can tell us a lot – but they can only show us a broad view of the problem. They miss the personal truths – the pain and the heartache of addicts and their friends and families. There are many causes of the huge increases we have seen in opiate use and opiate overdoses – aggressive and greedy drug companies, ignorant and greedy doctors, ignorant and over-confident patients, greedy drug dealers, ignorant politicians who refuse to pass laws that stop pill mills, insurance companies that won’t pay for treatment, etc., etc.

We all need to do what we can to turn this situation around!

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