Pharmaceutical

Prescription drug abuse deaths skyrocketing

Prescription drug abuse has escalated in recent years, and one place where it is most evident is in Ohio. According to the Department of Health, fatal overdoses in that state more than quadrupled in the last decade, and by 2007 had surpassed car crashes as the leading cause of accidental death. Of further concern is another report that showed nearly 10 percent of all babies born in Scioto County, Ohio, tested positive for drugs.

Deaths caused by prescription drug abuse exceed those killed by crack cocaine in the 1980s and heroin in the 1970s, combined. This week, the Obama administration announced plans to fight prescription drug abuse.

One of the most problematic prescription drugs was banned late last year by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Propoxyphene, known by the brand names Darvon and Darvocet, are opioids used to treat mild to moderate pain that have been on the market for more than 50 years. The FDA voted to pull the drug after a new study showed that propoxyphene had been linked to deadly heart rhythm abnormalities.

But twice before, citizens groups had petitioned the FDA to ban drugs containing propoxyphene because of the risk of dependency and overdose, even at therapeutic levels. The FDA instead opted at that time to keep the drug on the market but require stronger warnings on the drug’s safety label.

The problem is that once addicted to the medication, most people do not read the drug’s safety label. Experts say that hundreds, and possibly even thousands, of deaths can be blamed on Darvon and Darvocet.