Accidental poisoning tops traffic deaths

April 20, 2013

I was attending a conference in Washington, D.C., and the question tossed out to the room was this: What is the leading cause of accidental deaths in the U.S.?

That is an easy one – traffic accidents. Or so I thought, and I was wrong. Since 2009, traffic deaths have taken a backseat to accidental poisoning as the leading killer. While many are due to alcohol the one on the rise is overdose of prescription drugs.

Over the last decade there has been a huge surge in hospital admissions, 1.6 million last year, and admissions to treatment centers for this addiction are up nearly 600 percent.

The largest increase occurs in the 18- to 24-year-old group, and abuse of pain killers, often mixed with benzodiazepines (Valium) leads the list.

What is going on here? Abuse by adults comes from several initiators. Some are using the drugs legitimately and then get addicted. For others it is a continuation of behaviors involving many substances. The proliferation of “script mills” and the Internet have made access easier.

For youths the story is a bit different. It would be unlikely that a parent would continue administering a drug to the point that their child would become addicted or receive a life- threatening overdose. Instead, prescription drugs have become just another method to get high.

Where do they get the drugs? Usually it is from home or from friends and at parties. Remember that bottle of hydrocodone that the dentist prescribed for your oral surgery, but you only used 2 of the 15 tablets and you decided to keep the rest? It may be missing from your shelf. Has grandma complained about being shorted pills? It is likely that someone has taken them.

It is common for bowls of pills to be one of the items found at teenagers’ parties. Ten percent of Texas 12th graders report using Vicodin at least once. There is a recreational drug known as “Purple Drank,” “syrup” and “Texas tea” among other names, made from prescription strength cough syrup and mixed with Sprite and Jolly Rancher candies. Huge doses are consumed to get the desired effect. Unfortunately life-threatening doses are similar. Several high-profile deaths have occurred, and it is a real problem in Texas.

Is there anything that we can do about this? Yes, there is.

The first thing to do is get rid of those unused meds. For environmental considerations do not put them in the garbage or toilet.

Saturday, April 27, is National Take Back Drugs Day with the program “Got Drugs?” Bring them to the Sheriff’s Office for safe disposal, no questions asked. The HCSAC has purchased a drug lock box and has been installed at the Sheriff’s Office for use at any time, so you don’t have to wait.

For medications that we use the challenge is keeping them out of the hands of others. A home use drug lock box is a good option, and these are available online for $20-$40. Remember that any visitor to your home from kids to adults can be drug thieves, even your grandchildren. Lastly, talk to your children about drug abuse. Believe it or not, they really do listen.

The Hood County Substance Council (HCSAC) is dedicated to the prevention of substance abuse.

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