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May 1, 2013

Doctors Warn Prescription Drug Abuse Can Have Fatal Consequences

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While much attention is given to the dangers of using illegal drugs, the prescription drugs you can find in your own medicine cabinet can be just as harmful to your health if used improperly. Now, health officials are trying to highlight the dangers of abusing legal prescription drugs, particularly prescription painkillers.

In Oklahoma, the state’s commissioner of health Terry Cline said, “Just over the last 10 years, or about 10 years, we have seen a 372 percent increase in the number of deaths from misuse of prescription drugs. It’s huge.”

The problem was highlighted in his state when a star football player for the University of Oklahoma died from a painkiller overdose just two weeks after graduation.

“I think he was the All-American boy who was struggling with an all-American issue that is prevalent in communities across our country,” said Cline.

But it’s not just an Oklahoma problem. Nationally, deaths from abuse of prescription painkillers, or opiates, has quadrupled to more than 16,000 by 2010. Most people who abuse these substances don’t get them from doctors or drug dealers, but rather from their friends or the family medicine cabinet.

The problem, says Dr. Hal Vorse, an addiction specialist, is that most people think that because prescription drugs are legal, they aren’t dangerous.

“It doesn’t matter whether you buy your drugs in a liquor store, a pharmacy or on the street. You’re going to be just as dead at the end. You know, addiction doesn’t care where you get your drugs,” he warned.


“When I was in medical school, the one thing I was told was completely wrong. The one I was told was, if you give opiates to a patient who’s in pain, they will not get addicted. Completely wrong. Completely wrong. But a generation of doctors, a generation of us grew up being trained that these drugs aren’t risky. In fact, they are risky,” – Dr. Thomas Frieden, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Warm up questions

1. What do you know about the dangers of prescription drugs?

2. In what ways are prescription drugs different from illegal drugs? In what ways are they similar?

Discussion questions

1. Do you think that doctors should cut back on prescribing painkillers in order to lower the chance of someone getting addicted?

2. Why are some drugs only available by prescription, while others you can buy off the shelf in a pharmacy?

3. Why do you think prescription drug abuse does not get as much attention as illegal drug abuse?

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