Celebrity Overdose

Drug Policy Question of the Week – 2-21-12

As answered by Mary Jane Borden, Editor of Drug War Facts for the Drug Truth Network on 2-21-12. http://www.drugtruth.net/cms/node/3759

Question of the Week: Why have there been so many reports of celebrity overdoses?

From Heath Ledger, to Michael Jackson, to Amy Winehouse, and now to Whitney Houston, celebrity deaths from overdoses of otherwise legal drugs seem to be increasing, and indeed they are.

A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control outlined these disturbing statistics.

“In 2009, 1.2 million emer­gency department visits (an increase of 98.4% since 2004) were related to misuse or abuse of pharmaceuticals.”

The report went on to read,

“In 2008, a total of 36,450 deaths were attributed to drug overdose … among which a drug was specified in 27,153 deaths. One or more prescription drugs were involved in 20,044 [almost 75%] of the 27,153 deaths, and opiate pain relievers were involved in 14,800 [almost 75%] of the 20,044 prescription drug overdose deaths.”

U.S. Food and Drug Administration tracks the “serious outcomes” of its approved drugs through its Adverse Event Reporting System. By “serious outcomes,” the FDA means a “death, hospitalization, life-threatening, disability, congenital anomaly and/or other serious outcome” reported to it through the AERS system.

This system shows a substantial escalation in the number of deaths and serious patient outcomes over the last eleven years. From 2000-2010, “Serious outcomes” numbered 2,816,297, with “deaths” equaling 452,780. These two values grew by well over 50% during the last five years alone.

An article in the Connecticut Law Review laments that,

“Prescription drugs are paradoxical: as one of the greatest triumphs of the twentieth century, their powerful chemicals and biologics save many millions of humans from suffering and death; yet, these same chemicals also cause great suffering and death.”

These facts and others like them in the Causes of Death Chapter of Drug War Facts at http://www.drugwarfacts.org.