America’s love of prescription drugs sometimes manifests in bizarre, unexpected ways.
In December, various fashion and entertainment media reported that diva twins Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen released a line of black patent-leather crocodile skin handbags studded not with precious stones but with … prescription pills?
Ironically, an undisclosed portion of the proceeds from the controversial handbags, which retailed in limited quantities at $55,000 each, were donated to UNICEF, the arm of the United Nations Fund devoted to the well-being of children.
Perhaps glamorizing drug use by attaching multicolored capsule and tablet appliques to designer handbags wouldn’t be so strange if it were the brainchild of someone maybe a little more scandalous, but the Olsens built an empire on tween entertainment and merchandise, not to mention the fact that Mary-Kate’s close friend Heath Ledger died from an accidental overdose of prescription painkillers, anti-anxiety meds, and sleeping pills in January 2008.
A growing body of evidence indicates that prescription drugs, whether taken for legitimate purposes or recreational use, now kill more Americans every year than all illicit drugs combined. In fact, while most of the major causes of preventable death continue to decline, prescription drug deaths are a strong exception.
According to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), prescription drug use exceeded motor vehicle crashes as a cause of death in 2009. The same data shows that the prescription drug death toll doubled nationwide in just the 10 years from 1999 to 2009, and all evidence indicates this trend is accelerating.
While recreational drug use and abuse accounts for some of these deaths, accidental and unintentional prescription drug overdose is a growing problem. This is especially true for narcotic painkillers, which can impair the judgment and memory of the patient taking them.
CDC data shows that nearly 100,000 people are hospitalized annually because of adverse reactions to prescription medications and accidental overdoses. Nearly half of those hospitalized patients were 80 or older, and of them 66 percent unintentionally overdosed on their medication.
No matter what the circumstances, prescription drugs have become a leading cause of death in the U.S. If the Olsen twins weren’t attempting to celebrate this grim reality, then maybe they designed the 108 limited-edition handbags with some big-pharma executives in mind.