Overdoses of pain medications have surpassed cervical cancer and homicide as a leading cause of the death among women in the United States. This is particularly true for women between the ages of 20 and 40, though one would presume that older women may have more medical cause for pain medications. While the rate of overdose deaths has increased somewhat in proportion to the associated increase in the prescription of these drugs, there is no evidence to suggest that chronic pain conditions or other illnesses such as severe cancers that require pain medications have also increased. What we are observing then, is a cultural trend towards the use and abuse of prescription drugs.
This is not news.
Prescription drugs have a long history of overuse, recreational use, and addiction. From Laudanum in the 1600's to Valium in the fifties and now the Adderall and Oxycontin decades, people have long been looking for a solution to pain, something to lift their mood, motivation, solace, or just plain escape. But drugs are stronger than ever, and there seems to be a lot more of them, and reasons to need or want them, than ever before as well.
I think there is room for caution regarding the disparity between our ability to design and manufacture more and better drugs and our ability to handle them both physically and socially. Perhaps we should consider this a social consequence of other choices; high rates of incarceration and poverty; decreasing vacation time; the dissolution of the family structure; a cultural sense of victimhood. Somewhere along the line we need to start asking ourselves if we really believe that happiness can come in a pill, or if it should.
The Top Ten Abused Prescription Drugs and Their Effects: