While there is much hand-wringing about the dangers of cannabis, a lesser-known danger is hiding behind a flurry of smarmy marketing campaigns, lobbyist dollars, and bamboozled doctors. Prescription drugs pose a far greater harm to the U.S. population than illicit substances, much less cannabis, which has never been directly linked to a cause of death.
When comparing all prescription drug overdoses with all illicit drug overdoses, prescription drug overdoses account for 45 percent and all illicit drugs account for 35 percent. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that death from accidental drug reactions (ADR) is the 4th leading cause of death, beating all overdose, pulmonary disease and diabetes. The harm that comes from prescription drugs is far greater than that from illicit drugs, despite their heavy regulation and control.
The CDC reports that deaths due to prescription drug overdose have ″skyrocketed.″ The agency attributes the problem to a lack of pain clinic laws and no prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMP) in place to ensure that data is shared regarding drug prescriptions. Pain clinic laws monitor how dangerous opioids such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, and codeine are prescribed.
When prescriptions are not monitored properly, and use becomes abuse, great harms are incurred across the healthcare system. Non-medical abuse of opiates costs U.S. insurers $72.5 billion annually and Medicaid is hit with $60 billion in unnecessary charges resulting from ″doctor shopping.″ A person who ″doctor shops″ visits a number of doctors in hopes of finding one who will prescribe opium-derived medications. Once the prescription is filled, the ″shopper″ can then sell the pills for up to $100 each, making the efforts quite lucrative, especially if the person finds a doctor willing to offer refills on the prescription.
Meanwhile, pharmaceutical drug companies are posting profits every quarter. Recently, drug maker Novartis posted profits 24 percent higher than the previous term. However, despite such stellar sales and profits, the industry seems reticent when it comes to the harm stemming from its products.
Adding to the harm posed by prescription drugs is the free samples pharmaceutical representatives coax doctors into providing their patients. In the journal JAMA Dermatology, an editorial entitled ″Drug Samples in Dermatology″ shows that pharmaceutical drug companies boost sales by providing freebies to doctors. It is worth noting that illicit drug pushers often will offer future addicts a free sample in hopes of hooking them into becoming regular customers.
The difficulty with free samples is that even in a state with a PDMP, there is no oversight of a parcel of pills handed out in an office. In the past, there was even less oversight of samples and doctors were known to keep samples for their own use, including opiates. Doctors were known to become addicted to the drugs and often wound up with overdose or worse problems. Further, ADRs are known to stem from free drug samples, as there is no pharmacist to check whether a patient is taking another medication which might react adversely with the free sample.
The harm from prescription drugs is often hidden in perception. Pharmaceutical companies pay lots of money to ensure that there is minimal government oversight of their business practices and that they have no accountability when their products are misused–misuse in which they profit. Further, the public view of pharmaceuticals is managed by advertisements which present an emotionally pleasing view of the products.
By Hobie Anthony