Celebrity deaths from prescription drugs have been increasingly reported in the news over the past couple of years. Unfortunately, the untimely deaths of mega-stars such as Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston and Heath Ledger only highlight the growing problem of prescription drug abuse and drug-related deaths throughout the United States.

According to the Journal of American Medical Association, prescription drug overdose deaths have risen for the 11th straight year.  The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports more than 38,000 drug-related deaths in 2010, with 60% due to legally prescribed medications. Despite efforts by law enforcement and public health officials to curb prescription drug abuse, drug-related deaths continue to rise in the United States.

Prescription drug overdose deaths surpassed traffic accidents as the cause of death in 2009 and this gap has only continued to increase.  Opioid drugs, which include Oxycontin and Vicodin, were the most frequently used drugs and accounted for 3 out of 4 overdose deaths caused by medications. Although 17% of these deaths were ruled suicides, accidental overdoses caused the majority of the deaths. Opioid-based painkillers, such as anti-anxiety drugs, antidepressants, antipsychotic drugs and even anti-inflammatory drugs, were significantly related to the number of deaths caused by pharmaceutical drug overdose.


Prescription drug abuse often begins when legitimate uses of medications are prescribed for pain or injury. However, the person may begin to take more of the medication than required, which builds up his or her tolerance and eventually leads to drug addiction. At this point, the person may be willing to do anything to obtain more drugs. Some methods employed by the desperate may include:

  • “Doctor shopping,” or visiting multiple doctors and getting prescriptions from all of them
  • Turning to street dealers
  • Obtaining fraudulent prescriptions

A person’s heart and other bodily systems are affected by the constant flow of these drugs, which can cause damage to brain cells and create respiratory problems. Many prescription narcotics are respiratory depressants and when taken in conjunction with other depressants can have negative consequences, possibly even death.


Dr. Thomas, the head of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said, “the first step is recognizing that a loved one might need help.”  Signs requiring concern from family members can be seen in:

  • Changes in behavior, such as mood swings
  • Altered sleep patterns
  • Seeing many doctors or lingering medical conditions
  • Lack of attention to important issues
  • Unexpected weight loss

Signs of a co-worker who may be addicted to abusing drugs include:

  • Becoming less reliable
  • Coming to work late, missing deadlines
  • Isolating themselves in their office or is absent more frequently
  • Increasing financial problems, such as taking money out of 401K or savings
  • Frequent medical visits for panic attacks or chest palpitations

If you or someone you love may be struggling with prescription drugs, seek help at an addiction treatment facility.  For a free and confidential consultation, contact a recovery expert at Cornerstone Recovery Center by calling toll free 888-711-0354 or click here.


There has been pressure on all levels of government to decrease the use of prescription painkillers. The US Food and Drug Administration is considering a proposal to limit daily doses of painkillers and the number of days for dosages. R. Gil Kerlikowske, the current Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (also known as the “Drug Czar”), has also called for aggressive monitoring by state and local boards.

Additional steps that have been taken by the Federal Government:

  • Track prescription drug overdose trends to better understand the epidemic.
  • Encourage development of abuse deterrent opioid formulations and products that treat drug abuse and drug overdose.
  • Educate health care providers and the public about prescription drug abuse.
  • Require manufacturers to make educational programs for prescribers describing risks and benefits of extended release and long acting opioids.
  • Use opioid labeling to inform prescribers and clients about approved uses
  • Develop, evaluate and promote programs to prevent prescription substance abuse and prescription overdose.

Steps taken by the State Governments:

  • Start or improve electronic prescription monitoring programs tracking prescriptions for opioids in the state.
  • Use prescription drug addiction programs, public insurance programs and workers compensation data to identify improper prescribing of opioids.
  • Set up programs and state health plans that identify and address improper usage of opioids.
  • Pass, enforce and evaluate state laws to reduce prescription opioid drug abuse.
  • Encourage state licensing boards to take action against inappropriate drug prescription.
  • Increase access to substance abuse treatment.

The counselors at Cornerstone Recovery Center can answer any questions or concerns about a loved one who is or may be struggling with prescription drug abuse. Call 888-711-0354 or set up an appointment online with an addiction treatment counselor as soon as possible and take the first step to help your loved one recover.