Prescription Drug Abuse Sends More People to the Hospital
By ABBY GOODNOUGH, New York Times www.nytimes.com
Published: January 5, 2011
The number of emergency room visits resulting from misuse or abuse of prescription drugs has nearly doubled over the last five years, according to new federal data, even as the number of visits because of illicit drugs like cocaine and heroin has barely changed.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found there were about 1.2 million visits to emergency rooms involving pharmaceutical drugs in 2009, compared with 627,000 in 2004. The agency did not include visits due to adverse reactions to drugs taken as prescribed.
Emergency room visits resulting from prescription drugs have exceeded those related to illicit drugs for three consecutive years, said R. Gil Kerlikowske, President Obama’s top drug policy adviser.
“I would say that when you see a 98 percent increase,” Mr. Kerlikowske said, “and you think about the cost involved in lives and families, not to mention dollars, it’s pretty startling.”
In 2010, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported that the number of people seeking treatment for addiction to painkillers jumped 400 percent from 1998 to 2008. And in a growing number of states, deaths from prescription drugs now exceed those from motor vehicle accidents, with opiate painkillers like Vicodin, Percocet and OxyContin playing a leading role.
In September, the Drug Enforcement Administration organized the first national prescription drug take-back program, and thousands of people dropped off old or unused drugs at designated locations around the country. While the effort captured but a tiny fraction of the addictive drugs in the nation’s medicine cabinets, law enforcement officials said it helped people understand how deadly such drugs can be. Another collection day is being planned for April, Mr. Kerlikowske said.
“The most important thing that actually seems to be gaining a lot of traction,” he said, “is the recognition that the prescription drugs sitting in your medicine cabinet can be dangerous. That’s huge.”
A version of this article appeared in print on January 6, 2011, on page A18 of the New York edition.