The Los Angeles Times published a story titled "Legal drugs, deadly outcomes" on Nov. 11, 2012 about deaths from prescription drugs.
When people think of deaths due to drug overdose, probably heroin and cocaine as the cause comes to mind before the prescription drugs in the medicine cabinet. An investigation of coronerís records by the L.A. Times revealed that prescription drugs prescribed by a few doctors were at the root of many drug overdoses.
The L.A. Times investigation revealed that Van H. Vu,M.D., was the doctor responsible for prescribing drugs that were used in the deaths of six people due to drug overdose in a time period of 18 months. Ten more of Vu's patients died from overdoses in the next four years.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2.7 percent of Americans use psychotherapeutic drugs for non-medical reasons with pain relievers being the number one abused prescription drugs with 5.1 million American using the drugs non-medically.
Twelve thousand people died from prescription drug overdose in 2008, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Cocaine deaths were numbered at 4,000 people, and heroin deaths were numbered at approximately 2,000 people. Both numbers are significantly less than the total of prescription drug overdose deaths.
Prescription drugs are obtained by teenagers helping themselves to drugs prescribed for their parents. The most common of these prescribed drugs are Oxycontin, Vicodin, and Xanax. Teens take the drugs for themselves and they also sell them to students at their schools. Pharmacies are threatened with drug robberies to obtain the prescription drugs.
The L.A. Times investigation revealed that prescription drugs caused or contributed to 1,762 deaths in Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, and San Diego counties between 2006 and 2011. A small number of doctors were found to be associated with the drug prescriptions. Each of the doctors had prescribed drugs to three or more of the people who died. Vu prescribed the drugs for sixteen of the people who died.
"The data you have is something that's going to shock everybody," said Dr. Jorge F. Carreon, a former member of the Medical Board of California.
Only four of the doctors associated with this investigation have been convicted of drug offenses, and a fifth has been charged with second-degree murder due to the prescription drug overdoses of three patients. All other doctors, including Vu, have not been charged.
According to the L.A. Times article, doctors write around 300 million prescriptions a year for painkillers. This amount could allow every adult in America to be medicated 24 hours a day for a month. Pain relievers cause 3 out of 4 prescription drug overdoses. Additionally, for every death, 32 people go to the emergency room for non-fatal drug overdoses.
Many doctors don't acknowledge the ease with which patients can become addicted to prescription drugs, or the dangers involved with prescription drug use, according to Dr. Lynn Webster, the president-elect of the American Academy of Pain Medicine. "It leads them down a path that can be very harmful, and that's what physicians have to watch for," said Webster.