Understanding The Epidemic Of Drug Overdose

After the sudden and tragic demise of Prince Sheikh Rashid bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum of Dubai, many people began questioning how such a young and athletic individual could have suffered such a massive heart attack. The Prince was fairly healthy and had recently won many trophies in sporting events.

As reported by Mayo Clinic, approximately 360,000 sudden cardiac arrests (in young people) occur during a physical activity, such as an athletic event, annually in the US alone. Medical studies have also ascertained that about two-thirds of such incidents are brought on by various heart abnormalities which may cause cardiac arrhythmias.

However, apart from structural abnormalities and blood clots, drug abuse or overdose is also a potent cause of sudden death due to cardiac failure.

Defining The Terms

In order to understand the depth of the problem, we must first identify a few terms that are commonly used yet wrongly defined.

Overdose: The accidental or intentional swallowing, inhalation, injection or absorption (via skin) of a legal or prescription drug in excessive amounts that injures the body.

Misuse: Using a prescription drug against the directions given by the physician.

Abuse: The prolonged use of an illegal or prescription drug that may cause problems with work, relationships, school and overall health. It is generally a state of loss of control where the drug is taken in large amounts for a long period of time.

When Prescription Drugs Become A Problem

We hear such news on an everyday basis: a 53-year-old mother, along with her 35-year-old son and seven other people died due to prescription painkiller overdose. Similarly, incidents such as the death of a 13-year-old boy due to a fatal overdose of oxycodone pills and that of a 20-year-old man dies from methadone overdose are also fairly common.

These events are not to be taken as individual happenings – there is a viscous trend here.

Painkillers, Abuse, Overdose And Demise

Every day, about 44 people die in the US due to an overdose of prescription painkillers. The latter, also known as opioids, are used in the treatment of moderate to severe pain, and are generally prescribed after a surgery, injury, or detrimental disease, such as cancer.

Recent years have seen an astounding increase in the acceptance, availability and use of these prescription opioids, especially for treating chronic pain, such as back aches or osteoarthritis.

However, the problem occurs when the concerned individual starts exceeding the dosage beyond that prescribed by the physician. Moreover, mixing the opioids with other illicit or prescription drugs, or downing them with alcohol is what results in sudden deaths due to impaired breathing, and near fatal accidents.

Common Culprits  

The most common prescription painkillers that result in overdose deaths include:

  • Hydrocodone (e.g. Vicodin)
  • Oxycodone (e.g. OxyContin)
  • Oxymorphone (e.g. Opana)
  • Methadone (especially when prescribed for pain)
  • Benzodiazepines

Solutions To Consider: Drug Overdose

In 2013, almost two million Americans abused prescription opioids. Every day, about 7,000 people are brought to hospital emergencies for misusing prescription drugs. Yet, the matter has not been given the attention it deserves, despite the number of lives this epidemic has claimed.

Here are a few solutions.

  • Develop Safe Prescribing Practices

Safe and informed prescribing practices must be enforced, along with the establishment of reasonable prescribing guidelines.

  • Develop State Policies

Various cities and states across the US have improved their prescription regimes in order to prevent the misuse, abuse and overdose crisis. Such interventions include regulating pain clinics, identifying fraudulent prescriptions, and improving access to naxolene (antidote to opioid overdose).

The state can also take an initiate to enhance prescribing practices in public insurance programs.

  • Establishing Monitoring Programs

State prescription drug monitoring programs enables health care workers access information for improving patient safety and protection. It also helps preserve the patient’s access to a secure and effective treatment plan for chronic pain.


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