I posted not that long ago a piece on a story I found about a county in Ohio that had experienced a large number of fatal traffic accidents attributed to the use of prescriptions drugs. I just ran across a story about prescription drug related deaths in Harris County, Texas. The city of Houston, by the way, is located in Harris County. The article I’m referring to, entitled The Other Drug War, appeared in the Houston Chronicle.
Prescription drugs have killed more than 1,200 people in Harris County since 2006 — casualties in a deadly American drug war in which dealers are often doctors and pharmaceutical companies, rather than narcotics cartels, rake in multimillion-dollar profits.
Unlike in the Ohio story, traffic fatalities are missing from this article as the 1,200 person figure doesn’t include “hundreds of others who crashed cars, fell and committed suicide.”
The problem isn’t only regional, the whole country is implicated.
Nationwide, prescription pills now regularly kill more people in the U.S. than cocaine. Pharmaceutical poisonings also claim more lives of people in their mid-30s to mid-50s than accidents involving guns or cars, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns.
Last year alone the tally was 250 dead from prescription drug overdoses in Harris County.
Nearly 250 people were accidentally poisoned by prescriptions in Harris County last year, the newspaper analysis of medical examiners records shows. Their average age was 42. Most were white. Almost half were women.
Many of these drug deaths involved drugs used to treat psychiatric conditions. A woman mentioned, for example, was on 9 prescription drugs at the time of her death. Among those drugs were lorazepam, a drug for anxiety, citalopram, an antidepressant, and a muscle relaxant, the very drugs later determined to have caused her death.
At another point in this story a particularly deadly and common drug cocktail called “The Trio” or “The Trinity” is described. The drugs that make up this cocktail are alprazolam, hydrocodone and carisprodol, better known by their commercial names as Xanax, Vicodin, and Soma. The use of these 3 drugs together is usually not justified medically, but people take them anyway for the stimulating effect they get from them. Xanax, of course, is an antianxiety drug; the other drugs are a pain killer and a muscle relaxant.
For every single fatality, 50 potentially life-threatening overdoses occur according to the article.
Nationally, fatal prescription poisonings increased by 25 percent from 1985-1995, according to the CDC. That first wave of deaths corresponded to a change in prescription practices in which potentially addictive medications were often prescribed for nonmalignant pain, according to a 2006 report by leading researchers.
Obviously we have a larger problem confronting us extending well beyond the boundaries of Harris County, Texas. It’s also a problem that we need to be keeping an eye on because unless drug prescribing trends change dramatically, it’s a problem that will be growing.