PAINKILLER OR PEOPLE KILLER?
The United States has long been the world's most heavily-medicated country. Americans purchase and consume more prescription drugs per capita than any other, and the number of retail prescriptions filled per capita in this country is increasing year after year. According to the health policy and research group Kaiser Family Foundation, annual spending in the U.S. on prescription drugs has risen over 600% since 1990. Source: http://www.kff.org/rxdrugs/upload/3057-08.pdf
Unfortunately, a new study reveals the harsh reality associated with this trend. According to a report released last month by the National Center for Health Statistics, drug poisonings related to prescription drug abuse is the leading cause of accidental deaths in the United States, topping automobile accidents for the first time in more than 30 years.
Three classes of prescription drugs most frequently abused include opiates (painkillers), sedatives (sleep aids) and stimulants. Of the three, opiates pose the most significant health threat. While many natural and synthetic opiates are effective painkillers, they also carry a high risk of dependency and abuse. According to the report's findings, opiates were involved in more than 40% of drug poisoning deaths in 2008.
Consider the following data in the report (linked here in PDF format -http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db81.pdf):
• Poisoning is now the leading cause of death from injuries in the United States and nearly 9 out of 10 poisoning deaths are caused by drugs.
• Poisoning is the leading cause of death from injury in 30 states.
• Natural and semi-synthetic opioids such as morphine, hydrocodone, and oxycodone were involved in over 9,100 drug poisoning deaths in 2008, up from about 2,700 in 1999.
Many of these drugs are easily accessible, frequently prescribed, and difficult to monitor. Although nearly all 50 states now have a prescription drug monitoring program, not all programs are fully operational.
As an employer, it's important to note that while standard drug screening panels like the DOT 5-panel typically include schedule I or II drugs (those that carry the highest risk for potential abuse), not all schedule I or II drugs are tested. Drugs like oxycodone (OxyContin) and hydrocodone (Lortab) are schedule II drugs that are not detectable on a DOT drug test or even a standard non-DOT 10-panel test. Most other painkillers as well as anti-anxiety drugs and sleep aids fall under Schedule III-V drugs, also making them undetectable on these tests.
For a full list of Schedules I-V drugs, please click here (PDF): Schedule I-V Drugs