This past Sunday's front page story in the Los Angeles Times sounded an increasingly familiar and alarming cry: More than 1 million tablets of OxyContin — by far the nation's both bestselling and widely abused painkiller — have ended up in the hands of Los Angeles criminals and addicts. The news is disturbingly consistent with other reports we are reading from around the country. According to government statistics, overdose deaths from prescription opioids have nearly quadrupled since 1999. More than 194,000 people have died. It's estimated that nearly 4,000 people begin abusing those drugs every day in this country as the prescription drug epidemic continues to bleed into a heroin crisis that is becoming pandemic, destroying families and communities in its wake.
The link between prescription painkillers and heroin is in no way exclusive to OxyContin. The painkiller Fentanyl, for example, was recently referred to in a report by the New York Times as "heroin's deadly cousin." This pharmaceutical is meant for cancer patients already on painkillers but experience pain that cuts through their standard medication. Fentanyl is up to 50 times more potent than morphine and dealers are said to cut it into a number of other drugs to increase the high along with the danger for unsuspecting buyers.
According to the health news and information website, HealthGrove, though doctors are typically not advised to prescribe this drug, even for acute postoperative pain, some do. Beyond its role in the illicit drug trade, the prescribed use of Fentanyl can, and has, caused patient complications, including death.
In a world overrun with pharmaceuticals, no one should feel at all distanced from this problem. Some of the most dangerous drugs we may be exposed to are not opioids. They are legally prescribed. Many don't require a prescription.
Using data from the Food and Drug Administration for 2004 through 2015, Health Grove looked at the 150 drugs that are involved in the highest number of adverse reactions. It then ranked them by the percent of these reactions classified as serious and came up with its list of what it considers the "50 Most Dangerous Drugs." Fentanyl ranked number 40. OxyContin came in at number 31.
(To view the full list of Most Dangerous Drugs log on to — http://drugs.healthgrove.com/stories/12356/most-dangerous-drugs)
Number one on the list is the drug cyclophosphamide, a powerful pharmaceutical used to treat certain malignancies, as well as Hodgkin's disease, leukemia and other conditions. According to webmd.com, second malignancies have developed in some patients treated with cyclophosphamide and treatment can cause significant suppression of immune responses in patients. Also on the list are more common over-the-counter drugs like Aspirin and Tylenol (acetaminophen). According to the Food and Drug Administration, there are more than 300,000 over-the-counter drug products on the market and, since 1975, more than 100 ingredients, indications, or dosage strengths have gone from prescription only to over-the-counter status. Four out of five American adults commonly take over-the-counter medications.
The report stresses that many of the drugs listed may not be inherently dangerous, but in improper dosages, or combining them with other medicines can dramatically increase risk of harmful, even deadly reactions. It's also noted that one-third of Americans "combine medications when treating multiple symptoms."
The report is in no way an indictment of modern pharmaceuticals. It acknowledges that modern pharmaceuticals have greatly contributed to the health and longevity of people around the world. It's just that, as more drugs become available over the counter and prescriptions of others rise, consumer awareness and caution becomes increasingly important, especially when combining medications without consulting a doctor; something most of us do on a regular basis.
Just because a drug is sold over the counter doesn't mean it's harmless. Many cough, cold, and flu combos contain acetaminophen to relieve sore throats, headaches, and fevers, for example. If you take Tylenol (which is also acetaminophen) on top of them, you could be exceeding the 4-gram daily upper limit for this drug. Do this habitually and you could be risking liver damage.
Taking the herb St. John's Wort and cough medicine is also problematic says Tim Davis, a member of the National Community Pharmacists Association. By pairing them you can trigger a dangerous condition called serotonin syndrome, which is characterized by confusion, discomfort, and trouble controlling motor movements.
There is also a distinction to be made between healthy adults and those with chronic health problems who are more at risk of potentially serious adverse reactions. If you have an existing health problem, you may want to visit FamilyDoctor.org for a list of medical conditions that may require extra precautions.
There is also an important distinction that must be made between adults, teenagers and young adults - and a well founded concern about their access to the family medicine cabinet.
Emergency room physicians are seeing more and more teens coming in due to accidental overdose of prescription drugs. According to the website lockthecabinet.com, in a study of emergency room visits by teens and young adults, researchers at the University of Michigan found that more than 10 percent of them had abused an opioid or sedative medication.
According to the study, the most commonly abused prescription drugs include painkillers, stimulants and anti-anxiety medications. Many other types of prescription drugs are abused by teenagers and young adults as well, including antidepressants, muscle relaxers, mood stabilizers, and diet pills. It's believed that teenagers may have begun combining these various drugs thinking their parents were less likely to notice if one or two pills from several prescriptions are missing as opposed to many pills from one bottle. Combining pharmaceuticals is now considered a trend among young people and the dangers it poses are extremely high — and parents may be supplying the drugs without even realizing it.
According to lockthecabinet.com, in recent years, deaths due to prescription drug abuse have exceeded gun-related deaths by over 300 percent. When it comes to the family medicine supply, maybe a locked box is not such a farfetched idea.
Write to Chuck Norris ([email protected]) with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook's "Official Chuck Norris Page." He blogs at http://chucknorrisnews.blogspot.com. To find out more about Chuck Norris and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
Photo credit: Victor