Current estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau place U.S. population at around 319 million people, or slightly more then 4 percent of the people on earth. Thus, it is astounding that, according to congregational testimony by the American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians, this one nation results in 80 percent of the consumption of prescription pain killers in the world.
Of course, people in every nation often find themselves in situations where they seem to be in need of serious pain management, but doctors in the U.S. appear to be far more likely to turn to opioid painkillers then those in other countries. Not only that, this upsurge in prescription medication is a fairly recent phenomenon.
A report from the National Center for Health Statistics found that between 1999 and 2008 found that the use of prescription drugs in the U.S. has sky-rocked in those years, with the amount of money spent on prescription drugs increasing from $104.6 billion to $234 billion.
Reasons for the increase
There is some discussion that doctors themselves may sometimes be overzealous in prescribing more medicine then is truly necessary. The 2010 National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey found that 79.3 percent of people who visited a hospital had drug therapy as part of their treatment plan.
In particular, some opioid analgesics that were originally designed only for very serious chronic pain in the midst of a fatal disease are being used far more often, and sometimes when a milder drug might have worked as well. These painkillers have a high potential for dependence and serious health dangers if abused that may not always be taken into consideration when a doctor recommends them.
While some doctors are intentionally making it easy for addicts and recreational users to get a hold of drugs, many others are simply unaware of the potential risks, or of possible alternatives.
Because the U.S. market is so large and profitable, and because the FDA often puts fewer regulations and requirements on medications then many other industrialized nations, drug companies often used the States as a "test market," pushing substances on it first, to see how profitable they will become worldwide.
In countries with socialized medical care systems, the government will pay for needed medications, and will therefore put limits on how much a person can received. However, in the U.S., a person can get as many prescriptions as he or she can pay for.
The personal and social risks involved in prescription drug use
Several types of prescription drugs, including painkillers, stimulants, and tranquilizers, can become addictive, as the body developed a sense of dependence, and the user feels unable to function apart from the drug. This often leads to so-called "recreational use" at doses or for purposes not recommended by healthcare providers, which can create tremendous dangers from side effects and overdoses.
Such abuse and misuse of prescription drugs is the largest and fastest growing drug addiction within the United States. Often people falsely believe that because these drugs are legal, they offer a safer high then other "street drugs," but the truth is that all drugs carry risk with them.
Even under medical supervision, when a large number of drugs are taken together, they may interact with each other in unknown ways, often being hazardous to health. Prescription drug abuse damages people's health, and in doing so, destroys families, contributes to unemployment, hurts the nation's productivity, and costs hospitals and health care systems millions of dollars unnecessarily.
According to the Clinton Foundation, an overdose of prescription drugs kills one person every 19 minutes. Clearly, something needs to be done to stop this epidemic of overuse and misuse.
What can be done about this?
Healthcare professionals may need more resources and education to know how to create better pain management programs that take into account the risks of some medications, and possible alternatives that may be available.
The American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians is in support of more safety controls over the use of prescription medication, and laws monitoring prescriptions to prevent abusers from getting too many pills.