Legal Drugs Lead to Majority of Overdose Deaths in the United States
In recent years, there has been a massive spike in premature deaths among U.S. citizens and military personnel due to prescription drug use. Meanwhile, some drugs that have shown potential for combatting severe psychological disorders remain illegal.
A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that drug overdose is the leading cause of sudden deaths in the United States, surpassing homicide, gun shot deaths, suicide, and car accidents. The analysis relays the fact that 38,329 people died from a drug overdose in the United States in 2010, its most recent year of study. Prescription drugs accounted for 60 percent of these deaths.The CDC says the increase in overdose deaths is primarily due to opioid analgesics -- painkillers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone. The increase in opioid overdoses accounted for 3 out of 4 fatal prescription drug overdoses.
The numbers suggest that the potential harm or benefit of a given drug is not necessarily related to its federal drug policy classification.
For example, preliminary studies on the usage of 3,4-MDMA, a Schedule I drug, has shown considerable promise for treating post traumatic stress syndrome.
A study conducted by MAPS has gained considerable press for its potential. The study reported that 16 of the 19 participants showed statistically significant gains in symptom relief, rendering the experiment a guarded success.
However, as with any scientific endeavor, further study and analyses are necessary for conclusive evidence.Schedule I is a
classification reserved for drugs believed to have no positive medical usages, making them difficult to acquire for medical purposes. The result of the hearing to determine MDMA's categorization came in contrast to the presiding Judge’s recommendation, which was echoed in the Federation of American Scientist's unsuccessful 2001 proposal to re-evaluate the drug.
The current legal restrictions on Schedule I drugs makes obtaining permission to undertake the necessarily large scale, legal, scientific studies with MDMA extremely difficult.
The military has become an unintentional focus group for this issue. The use of prescription opiates, as well as the potential for MDMA, affects veterans of the armed forces to a higher degree than the civilian population.
Nora D. Volkow, M.D., the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, states:
“As in the society at large, the greater availability of opioid pain medications is likely a major factor in their growing abuse; the number of pain reliever prescriptions written by military physicians quadrupled between 2001 and 2009- to almost 3.8 million”
The TRICARE report submitted to Congress for Fiscal Year 2012 noted that prescription use is 35 percent higher within the military than within the civilian population, a disparity that is explained by the higher level of physical dangers that come with the duties of being a service member.
However, while it is important to address the physical pain of returning soldiers, but just as important to address the burden of mental struggles. The emotional anguish incurred as a cost of war can be every bit as damaging as the physical, and our servicemen and women should be allowed to explore all potential avenues of relief.
In order to make drug policy more beneficial to people, policymakers ought to formulate a more complete understanding of substances -- including the dangers of drugs that have been deemed good, and the good of the drugs that have been deemed dangerous.
About the Author
UC San Diego Graduate with a B.A. in Communications and a Philosophy Minor. Aspiring Stand-Up Comedian, Bay Area native, and a former South African Talk Radio Host.