Another American Legend Gone: Implications of Prescription Drug Addiction and Abuse in America

Another American Legend Gone: Implications of  Prescription Drug Addiction and Abuse in America

Another legend dies due to drug use. Not illegal drug use mind you, just prescription medication. Though the autopsy reports for Michael Jackson do not yet show what the pop singer passed away from, the countless prescription medications Jackson was taking are suspect.

Another example is 28 year old Heath Ledger who passed away about a year and a half ago due to an overdose of sleeping medication. The medication Ledger was taking may have just been one pill too many. Subsequently, the actor stopped breathing and was found dead in his apartment.

It seems that only when the young and famous start dying the issues come to the surface. Both Jackson and Ledger are great examples of the issues surrounding prescription drug use.

The biggest issue with prescription drug use is that they are prescription. How does that make sense? Let me explain. It is quite easy to justify using a painkiller now and again or an anti-anxiety medication. The prescription was prescribed by a physician, it is for a medicinal purpose, and the inpidual using it is supposedly in pain- whether it’s physical or psychological. In American society today most people are taking some sort of mood or pain altering drug.

The question then arises- is everyone in some sort of distress? Statistically is that even possible? Most statisticians would say the answer is no. In more cases than not, medication usage is a conscious decision which is made when all alternatives have not been taken into account. The result: a society runs on artificial relief.

The unfortunate issue with prescription drug medication is quite simply it is addictive. It’s also relatively easy to get. Physicians are more and more willing to give artificial help for a temporary problem to their patients. The idea of going to a chiropractor for a backache or obtaining counseling from a therapist prior to writing a prescription does not occur to most physicians. On one hand they cannot be blamed as western medicine dictates prescription writing is the cure to ailments. On the other hand, physicians should be more responsible in terms of to whom they are giving over medications, how much is being prescribed and how often.

To detail the point further in 2002 a total of 3,340,000,000 outpatient prescriptions were filled by Americans. That's an average of twelve prescriptions for every man, women, and child in America. The trend of medication prescription can be seen when looking at the numbers below:

  • 2002: 3,340,000,000 Rx
  • 2001: 3,200,000,000 Rx
  • 2000: 2,979,000,000 Rx
  • 1999: 2,821,000,000 Rx
  • 1998: 2,523,000,000 Rx

The DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) has become more weary of prescription writing and is placing a firmer hold on exactly what medications are being given out and just how much of them. Regardless of this change in DEA practices, more attention still needs to be placed on prescribers.

Let’s look at the following example

Trina is a young lady who has been experiencing a bought of clinical depression. She goes to her psychotherapist who she has been seeing for over a year. It is suggested that she go see a psychiatrist as Trina’s symptoms do not seem to be lifting though she has repeatedly attempted to come out of the depression herself. Trina is displaying all the classic signs of depression which have been present for over two weeks (indicative of major depression):

  1. Loss of all desire to eat or developing a voracious appetite, especially for carbohydrates.
  2. Little energy.
  3. Feeling of sadness
  4. Inability to experience pleasure
  5. Early awakening or multiple awakenings throughout the night,
  6. Insomnia
  7. Excessive sleepiness
  8. Inability to concentrate, and indecisiveness.
  9. Feeling of worthlessness or guilt may be accompanied by recurrent thoughts of death.

Trina goes to see a psychiatrist. He takes a short family history, asks her what symptoms she is displaying and writes her a prescription for Wellbutrin. The encounter lasts under 15 minutes. Trina leaves feeling as though she just went to a drug dealer. The psychiatrist requested she come back in a month for a follow up but really took no other interest in Trina’s case.

It was that easy. Trina had insurance the provider accepted. He took that and was done. In Trina’s case, use of the medication was valid. She was depressed and used the medication responsibly; however, this does not always happen.

The take away message is simple; America needs to pay more attention to prescription drug use. Sure today it was the King of Pop who expired, tomorrow it could be your daughter or son. When we think of the issue in terms of ourselves and those we love, it becomes a lot more real.

Rachel Hayon, MPH, RN

"Depression" (PDF). National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Retrieved on 2009-07-04
NDCHealth, a healthcare information services company. Atlanta, GA, Apr. 1,
Friends Speculate on What May Have Caused Heath Ledger's Death,2933,529553,00.html?test=faces30 June 2009. Accessed 4 July 2009

Topic Discussion

  1. Addict

    It can kill!

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