When most people think of the leader of accidental deaths in America, it usually involves car crashes. The numbers would be high considering it takes into account accidents related to impaired driving as well as those who are just careless. However, according to Dr. Sanjay Gupta, car crashes are no longer the leading cause of accidental deaths in the United States. In fact, it is something that a large majority of people partake in everyday in order to be productive in their lives.
When using prescription drugs, mostly people who use them have no intention of dying; yet, this is something that happens more than 20,000 times in a year. On average, this breaks down to someone dying because of an accidental overdose every 19 minutes. In 2007, accidental drug poisoning became the leading cause of death in Ohio, more than motor vehicle crashes for the first time on record. This trend continued in 2010. Right now, accidental overdoses of prescription drugs has passed car crashes in being the leading cause of accidental deaths in the United States.
In doing his research, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s chief medical correspondent and associate chief of neurosurgery at Grady’s Memorial Hospital, spoke with a doctor in Washington State who told him that accidental death from prescription drug overdoses is the largest man-made epidemic in the United States. Gary Franklin, the medical director for Washington’s state Department of Labor and Industries, described to Dr. Gupta terrifying cases as well as saying it was the saddest thing he had ever seen.
In one case, he mentioned how a teenager lost his life due to taking too much narcotic medication after having a dental procedure. Dr. Franklin went on to say that was usually happens is a man, typically in his 40’s or 50’s, visits a doctor and leaves with a prescription for a pain pill. Roughly three years later, that same man would typically die in his sleep as a result of mixing his pain pills with alcohol or just taking too many of them.
For Dr. Gupta, his profession has made him aware that the problem was expanding but even to him the numbers boggle the mind. The main ingredient in popular painkillers is morphine and its’ distribution has increased 600% from 1997-2007, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. We now prescribe enough pain pills in the United States to give every man, woman and child one every four hours, around the clock, for three weeks.
Though it is our neighbors, our friends and even our family members that are dying, we usually do not pay as much attention unless it happens to a celebrity. Ironically, Dr. Gupta says that it was former President Bill Clinton who called him and helped bring attention to the issue. He could tell over the phone that Clinton was broken up over something and that was two of his friends had both lost their sons to accidental overdose.
In a way that he will never forget, the former president said, “Look, no one thinks having a few beers and an Oxycontin is a good idea, but you also don’t expect to die.” It was at this moment Dr. Gupta realized that they needed to do their part in the media to make people aware of this issue and to find solutions that would work.
According to the 2011 congressional testimony from the American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians, 80% of the world’s pain pills are consumed in the United States. It starts seemingly harmless with a prescription for pain medicine that is in a small dose and a small amount. However, in just a few months, something changes in the body where the effectiveness starts to wear off and patients typically report only getting 30% of pain relief from when they first started.
A greater concern for some patients is that they end up with a condition where they develop an increased sensitivity to pain, known as hyperalgesia. At this point, the individual begins to take more and more of the pain medicine and though they no longer provide much pain relief, they still can decrease the body’s drive to breathe. Too many pills in your system can lead to a person not waking up. The addition of alcohol only makes the problem worse and anyone who takes sleeping or pain pills with a couple of glasses of wine might as well be playing Russian roulette.
This may sound as if Dr. Gupta is being dramatic or scary in which case you would be right; however, it is something he is not sorry for and wishes he had been this dramatic years ago. In his upcoming documentary, he explores how we arrived in this deadly situation as well as exploring solutions to deal with this, which is the most important.
In doing his research, Dr. Gupta has crisscrossed the country in an attempt to see what works and what didn’t He spoke with patients, doctors and families who lost a loved one. In one case, he even spoke with a man who shares his last name. Former President Bill Clinton is also in the documentary explaining his thoughts about the issue and how he has dedicated a large part of his post-presidency domestic efforts to this cause. He also speaks on how he has identified areas where everyone can make a difference.
Throughout Dr. Gupta’s career, he says how he has traveled the world and seen problems where people were so stubborn that solutions would never be discovered. In dealing with accidental deaths due to prescription drugs, this is something where the opportunity is there to solve this problem and to put an end to this large man-made epidemic.
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