A prescription to end unintentional drug poisoning

By Kim Smiley

According to the CDC, drug poisoning is now the second leading cause of unintentional death, after car crashes.  Most of the drug poisoning deaths result from the abuse of illegal and prescription drugs.  If we look at an extremely basic cause-and-effect for overdose of prescription drugs, we note that a patient overdoses (takes too many pills) for some situationally-dependent reason (such as increasing the amount of medication to provide additional benefit, as can occur with painkiller addiction) AND access to an increased amount of the medication.  Many times the access to the medication is provided by “doctor-shopping”, where a patient sees multiple doctors for painkiller prescriptions. 

Databases that track these sorts of prescriptions have been implemented in most states to curb access to large amounts of the most frequently abused drugs.  However, since the programs are state-run, patients could still get multiple prescriptions by crossing state lines.  Also, in some states it may take as long as two weeks before a new prescription shows up in a database, creating extra time for addicts to collect prescriptions.

This is an example of a case where a solution has been implemented, but it  hasn’t reduced the risk to an acceptable level (as evidenced by the thousands of people still dying from prescription drug overdoses).  So, the solution is being tweaked.  The federal government has provided funding to states to upgrade their databases.  It’s hoped that this will start to decrease the number of deaths from prescription drug abuse.  If it doesn’t, even more drastic action will be needed.