The number of Americans abusing and dying from prescription drug overdoses remains at record levels — and states simply don’t have the policies in place to address the epidemic, according to a comprehensive new state-by-state report from the public health group Trust for America’s Health.
“Prescription drugs can be a miracle for many, but misuse can have dire consequences. The rapid rise of abuse requires nothing short of a full-scale response — starting with prevention and education all the way through to expanding and modernizing treatment,” said Jeffrey Levi, PhD, executive director of Trust for America’s Health, in a press release. “There are many promising signs that we can turn this around — but it requires urgent action.”
Approximately 60 percent of all U.S. drug overdose deaths are caused by prescription drugs. Last year, nearly 23,000 Americans died from a prescription drug overdose. According to the new report, pharmaceutical drug overdose deaths have doubled in 29 states since 1999, and quadrupled in four of these states while tripling in another 10, costing the country over $53 billion per year in medical costs, lost productivity, and costs incurred through the criminal justice system.
“Fifty Americans die a day from prescription drug overdoses, and more than 6 million suffer from prescription drug abuse disorders. This is a very real epidemic — and warrants a strong public health response,” said Andrea Gielen, ScD, Director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy.
Unfortunately, the report finds that most states are currently ill-equipped to provide such a response. The District of Columbia and 28 states scored a six out of ten or less when it comes to having procedures and policies in place to prevent and treat prescription drug addiction. These measures include prescription pharmaceutical drug monitoring programs, Good Samaritan laws that provide legal cover to those reporting a prescription drug overdose to authorities, special training for doctors and health care providers meant to identify patients at-risk of developing a drug abuse disorder, and support for substance abuse programs through Obamacare’s optional Medicaid expansion.
Only New Mexico and Vermont achieved perfect scores on the report card, while South Dakota had the worst score with two out of a possible ten. The highest number of drug overdose deaths occurred in West Virginia.
Some states and pharmaceutical organizations have taken steps in recent months to adopt the types of policies recommended by the report authors. For instance, CVS pharmacy recently announced that it would cut off prescription privileges to doctors who are found to over-prescribe prescription painkillers — the main source of pharmaceutical drug abuse. The New York Police Department announced at the beginning of the year that it would start randomly implanting GPS tracking chips into pill bottles in order to track down stolen medications and uncover large-scale prescription drug stash houses.
Others have proposed more high-tech solution from the burgeoning epidemic. A project by the Brigham Young University’s Engineering Capstone program led to the creation of a sophisticated electronic pill bottle that controls the number of pills that it dispenses at one time and lets pharmacists use USB technology to see whether or not people are taking more pills than they should be.