Sabrina Tavernise has missed the boat so many times I am surprised she has not fallen off the pier and ruined her pantsuit. In her recent article documenting the upcoming change in schedule for the narcotic hydrocodone, Tavernise notes that since the late 1990s “the number of Americans who die from prescription drug overdose have more than tripled,” without stopping to ask, “Why?” After all, the heart of the issue is the question, “Why?” What happened in the late 1990s that set off this rapid rise in the abuse of prescription controlled substances? It is not just narcotics, either. There has also been a rapid rise in the use and abuse of prescription amphetamines over the last 20 years, as well as a massive increase in our country’s dependence on psychotropic drugs for conditions like depression, anxiety and insomnia. There is a pill for everything in America, and Americans are lining up around the block to get a piece of that action.
The answer lies largely in specific government actions. There was a time when it was illegal for drug manufacturers to advertise directly to the common man. It was a sensible law, because the common man simply does not have the level of education to know when and what drug therapies are appropriate. Unfortunately, along came the lobbyists, PACs and campaign donors who threw a lot of money at politicians to change the rules. Now drug manufacturers can go directly to the people with the magical thinking of advertising, convincing America it needs more drugs. Now Joe Citizen walks into the doctor’s office and demands that new drug for insomnia he saw on a 2AM advertisement. Joe gets his wish, and then gets hooked on an addictive sedative. Here is an interesting tidbit. Despite the massive increase in people on anti-depressive drugs over the last twenty-five years, America’s suicide rate has hardly budged. We are spending our money and taking the drugs, yet are no better off than we were before.