By Robert Folsom | July 16, 2012
“We are in the midst of an epidemic” is how the Director of the Centers for Disease Control described the problem on July 3 of last year. His quote made it into that day’s news cycle, but was gone by the next day.
The story resurfaced last month, when a medical journal cited more recent data about the epidemic: “More than 15,500 people…died in 2009, more than double since 2002.” But again, it was mostly a one-day story.
This killer is not a disease nor an illegal drug — in fact, heroin and cocaine overdoses together account for fewer deaths annually.
This far more deadly killer is prescription drugs, specifically painkillers such as OxyContin and Vicodin. In other words: The abuse of legal drugs is the “epidemic” the head of the CDC was talking about. It’s a sad and underreported story that grows larger by the day.
And the rates of abuse are indeed exploding:
“Taking prescription painkillers without a medical need increased 75 percent from 2002 to 2010… according to the first study to look at who is likely to abuse the drugs and how often it occurs.” (Bloomberg)
CDC data also shows that in 2010, “2 million people reported using prescription painkillers nonmedically for the first time within the last year—nearly 5,500 a day.”
It’s easy to infer that the increases in abuse (and its consequences) reflect an increase in supply — because supply has boomed in the past decade.
Yet for that inference to hold, the evidence should show that a reduction in supply leads to a drop in demand. Alas, as reported by ABC News, a very recent study strongly suggests otherwise:
“The move by drug companies to make abuse-proof prescription painkillers may be inadvertently promoting heroin use…. The study of more than 2,500 people with opioid dependence found a 17 percent drop in OxyContin abuse with the 2010 arrival of a formula that’s harder to inhale or inject. During the same time period, heroin abuse doubled.”
So “Why?” remains the unavoidable question, especially “Why so much in the past decade?”
News reports and studies about prescription painkiller abuse are virtually silent about this question. So before I describe the possible role of social mood, I want to emphasize that my thoughts are based on informed speculation — and that I’m acutely aware that correlation is not causality.
Even so: We know we’re in a time of negative social mood at a very large degree of trend, which in turn becomes visible in the lives of individuals. Namely, via the increase in mental states like depression and behaviors like magical thinking, and even in destructiveness — or in the case of painkiller abuse, self destructiveness.
Far fetched? Well, before you dismiss the suggestion, please consider reading Alan Hall’s article from the December 2011 Socionomist, “Merry Superbugmas.” He presented a wealth of evidence that speaks for itself, showing that “Bear Market Stress is Weakening Society.”
The issue is critical enough that we’ve made the report free to Club members — simply register by following this link.
Andrea Dibben contributed research.