No doubt everyone has heard of the death of actor Heath Ledger, who overdosed on a cocktail of medications.
He is not alone - not even close. In 1983, 92 people died in their homes from mixing prescription pills with alcohol or street drugs. That number spiked to 3,792 in 2004 - an increase of 3200 percent.
According to MSNBC, "Researchers divided the medication deaths into four categories: Those that occurred at home and involved street drugs and/or alcohol; those that occurred at home and involved only medications; those that occurred away from home and involved prescription drugs, street drugs and alcohol; and those that occurred away from home and involved only medications.
They were shocked to discover a more than fivefold increase in deaths that occurred in situations least likely to be supervised. They logged a 564 percent spike in deaths from prescription drugs alone at home, and a 555 percent rise in deaths away from home from the combination of prescription medications, street drugs and/or alcohol.
The smallest jump, only about 5 percent, was in medication errors that occurred away from home and did not involve street drugs or alcohol.
Overall, the number of fatal medication errors rose by 360 percent, from 3,954 in 1983 to 22,770 in 2004, the study said. All told, more than 200,000 people died from accidental medication mistakes during that time."
The widespread use of painkillers like Vicodin and Oxycontin are a major factor. People can be careless in their usage, overuse, or mix with alcohol or street drugs.
"Those highly addictive drugs have been a growing worry for years. One reason they’re so dangerous is that the drugs slow down respiration, sometimes substantially. When a person takes too many drugs, or combines them with other depressants such as alcohol, breathing may stop entirely.
Like other powerful medications, the painkillers keep people out of the hospital, but they also present a greater possibility of misuse by patients, said [Anne] Burns, of the American Pharmacists Association.
“There seems to be a mindset that medications are treated like other consumer goods,” she said. “It’s not like buying a loaf of bread.”"
MSNBC also provides a list of questions to ask, with every medication taken - every time:
— What is the name of the medication and what is it supposed to do?
— When and how do I take it?
— How long should I take it?
— Does this medication contain anything that can cause an allergic reaction?
— Should I avoid alcohol, any other medicines, food, and/or activities?
— Should I expect any side effects?
— What if I forget to take my medications?
— Is it safe to become pregnant or to breast-feed while taking this medication?
— Is there a generic version of the medication that my physician has prescribed?
— How should I store my medications?
Tell Us -
Have you ever had an overdose or bad reaction with prescription medications combined with something else? What do you think we can do about these needless deaths?
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