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Press Releases > Michael Jackson and Heath Ledger were not unique – prescription drug abuse has reached epidemic proportions - July 14, 2009

Michael Jackson and Heath Ledger were not unique – prescription drug abuse has reached epidemic proportions - July 14, 2009

posted on 6:04 AM, June 23, 2014
Click here for a .pdf of this press release.
 
Phoenix, AZ July 14, 2009 An emerging epidemic of prescription drug abuse in the United States has 
become a major public health emergency, outpacing in the amount of harm and deaths other current 
threats such as the H1N1 virus, terrorism, and heroin and cocaine abuse. This epidemic is far from 
limited to well publicized cases such as the tragic deaths of Michael Jackson and Heath Ledger. Affecting 
children even more than adults, recent research has shown that the use of illicit drugs such as cocaine, 
methamphetamine, and marijuana has given way to prescription drugs, with 1 in 5 teenagers having 
abused a prescription pain killer to get high, potentially with fatal results.1
 
 
These drugs are easily obtained and are often abused with the belief that as medications they are safer 
than illicit drugs. The most commonly abused drugs are pain killers, sleeping pills, tranquilizers, and 
stimulants, such as those intended to treat ADHD such as Ritalin and amphetamine ---- addicting drugs 
that can cause serious physical harm, or death, when abused, mixed with each other, or with alcohol. 
 
Data from the US Centers of Disease Control and Prevention2
 indicate that poisoning, including those 
from prescription drug abuse, is now the second leading cause of injury death in the US, having doubled 
from 1976 to 2006, and has increased 13% from 2005 to 2006, while motor vehicle accidents and other 
some other causes of traumatic death have declined. 
 
According to Paul Wax, MD, Executive Director of the American College of Medical Toxicology 
(www.acmt.net) the organization representing board certified physicians in the United States 
subspecialty certified in this medical discipline: “The use of powerful drugs such as opioid analgesics 
such as Demerol or oxycodone, or sedating drugs such as sleeping pills or tranquilizers – when used 
inappropriately – will continue to cause senseless deaths unless further regulations are initiated that 
monitor and control the use of these drugs. Deaths from these drugs when used inappropriately are 
expected given their pharmacologic and toxicologic properties. Medical toxicologists are called to treat 
and review these tragic cases far too often.” 
 
The American College of Medical Toxicology, urges that the following steps be implemented to quell this 
epidemic. 
1. All states should institute a monitoring program of the filling of prescriptions for scheduled 
substances by individuals. This information should be available to all prescribing physicians and 
health care facilities. 
 
1
 Research done by the Partnership for a Drug Free America 
2
 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports 58 (24); 674, June 26,2009 2. Licensing boards should institute requirements for training about prescription drug abuse for 
physicians and other individuals with prescription writing powers. Such an effort was shown to 
be very successful over forty years ago in the United Kingdom, where the CURB program 
resulted in a dramatic change in prescribing practices. 
3. Licensing boards and the US government should take strong measures to stop the practice of 
prescription writing over the internet by physicians who have no established physician-patient 
relationship. 
4. Licensing boards and the US drug Enforcement Agency should aggressively discipline Physicians 
and other health care providers who indulge in the practice of writing non-medically indicated 
prescriptions. 
5. The US Food and Drug Administration should encourage pharmaceutical companies to produce 
medications in a form where they are less likely to be abused, for example, by having matrices 
that cannot be made to liberate medications that give an acute effect from sustained release 
preparations.