Soaring Prescription Drug Addiction Deaths Prompt Special Utah Study

Soaring Prescription Drug Addiction Deaths Prompt Special Utah Study

The Utah Department of Health has announced an in-depth study of each of the 317 deaths caused by prescription drug addiction and abuse last year.

Calling the abuse of prescription drugs in the state an “epidemic”, the health department announcement says the study is part of its effort to reduce prescription drug addiction deaths in the state by tapping the knowledge of family members of the deceased.

The study will interview as many as 600 people to develop types or profiles of those who might be at high risk of prescription drug overdose.

“We’ll be asking the families critical questions about the victims’ lives prior to their deaths,” said health department Executive Director David Sundwall. “We’ll look at things like whether they were overweight, if they had a history of sleep apnea and any past substance abuse history. What we’re hoping to find is whether there is a certain type of person who is more likely to die from a drug overdose.”

The 317 prescription drug related deaths in 2007 exceeded the state’s annual motor-vehicle deaths for the first time, according to the Utah Office of the Medical Examiner.

Utah’s experience is not much different from every other state in the Union, where prescription drug addiction, abuse and deaths are also increasing in epidemic proportions. According to federal surveys, prescription drug addiction and abuse is the new gorilla in the room everywhere in America, and it is proving exceedingly difficult to combat.

The epidemic is striking particularly hard at young adults, according to a recent report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Americans of both sexes between 18 and 25 who abused prescription narcotic painkillers rose 12 percent last year, and prescription drug addiction and abuse involving painkillers and other psychoactive drugs are the number one drug killers of young Americans — more than all illicit drugs combined, such as heroin, cocaine, crack, and methamphetamine.

But the SAMHSA survey also found that “baby boomers” — Americans in their late fifties born during the post-World War II baby boom between 1946 and the early 1960s — are continuing their druggy life-style. But prescription drug addiction and abuse is soaring in this age group, suggesting that illicit street drug abuses may be declining and replaced by easy-to-get, and often cheaper, prescription drugs. These findings confirm earlier predictions that older Americans are not changing their 1960s “flower-power” ways as far as drug abuse is concerned.

Hopefully, the Utah study will come up with some information that can be used to help prevent prescription drug addiction and abuse not just in Utah, but across the country. Meanwhile, for people already dependent or addicted on prescription drugs, ‘medical’ drug detox is the best approach to safely coming off painkillers and other psychoactive prescription drugs, always followed by long-term drug rehab when it’s needed — which is almost always.

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