Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, Bruce Lee, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Keith Moon, and most recently, Prince, are only a handful of icons lost to prescription drug overdoses. Sadly, there are too many to mention them all. Contrary to what we may think, street drugs are not the number one killer of people with a history of substance abuse. When we hear about celebrities dying from the misuse of and addiction to drugs, we often don’t assume or realize that many of them overdosed on prescription drugs with the assistance of one or more doctors.
The facts surrounding prescription addiction are astounding. According to The Mayo Clinic, nearly 70 percent of Americans have a prescription to take at least one drug a day, while more than 50 percent are on at least two prescriptions. At least 20 percent have been prescribed to take at least five different medications. The most common prescriptions are for antibiotics, antidepressants, and painkiller opioids.
There’s more than one reason for the rise in prescription drug abuse. One is that there are more drugs available and drugs in general are more readily available than ever thanks to the internet. Another reason is that doctors are prescribing more medications to patients than ever.
We all have issues; some of us with our mental health, but even those without a diagnosis are forced to manage a crisis from time to time. It is unfortunate that so many choose to handle their physical pain and mental anguish in such a way that may seem to solve one problem and cause several more. It’s easy to see how the celebrity with an unscrupulous doctor who may be too willing to give them whatever they want can fall victim to their addiction and the availability of drugs.
From 1999 to 2014, more than 165,000 people died in the U.S. from overdoses of prescription opioids. In 2014 alone, there were more than 14,000 lives lost from overdosing on prescription opioids and almost 2 million Americans either abused or were dependent on them, says the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. One in four people struggle with addiction to prescription opioids. The most common drugs involved in prescription opioid overdose deaths are Methadone, Oxycodone (such as OxyContin®), and Hydrocodone (such as Vicodin®). Every day, over 1,000 people are treated in emergency departments for misusing prescription opioids.
You may feel like you’re choking on these statistics, but it is important to understand how our culture depends on the quick fix. Too many people in general, celebrity status notwithstanding, die from both legal and illegal drugs and alcohol. Often, the cause of death is drug and alcohol interaction.
The result of mixing prescribed medications with other drugs, alcohol, over-the-counter medications or even herbal supplements can be fatal. Many deaths caused by interaction are preventable. WebMD reports least 1.5 million people in the U.S. are harmed annually by medication errors. If you have any doubt about mixing one drug with another, always read labels and consult with a pharmacist to be sure. You can also take advantage of the interaction checker provided by WebMD on their website to find out what drugs should not be taken together.
Because it is a common mistake to mix drugs and alcohol, here are some helpful and interesting facts you may not be aware of, provided by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIH).
- Some medicines contain up to 10% alcohol, for instance, cough medicine and laxatives may have some of the highest alcohol concentrations.
- Women are more susceptible than men to alcohol-related damage to organs such as the liver. When a woman drinks, the alcohol in her bloodstream often reaches a higher level than a man’s. Even if both are drinking the same amount, since women’s bodies contain less water and alcohol mixes with body water, a given amount of alcohol is more concentrated in a woman’s body.
- Mixing alcohol with certain drugs may intensify the effects making it difficult to function and lead to falls and other fatal injuries.
- Some medicines that you might never have suspected can react with alcohol, including many over-the-counter medications, meaning you don’t need a prescription.
- Certain herbal remedies can have harmful effects when combined with alcohol.