The recent declaration by the lead singer of a major rock band that he is addicted to painkillers highlights an alarming showbiz trend in which more and more stars are suffering prescription drug addiction.
The singer joins a growing list of celebrities who have unwittingly become addicted to prescription drugs. Earlier this year (2009), for example, a senior actor admitted he was “a prisoner of prescription pain pills” and entered a rehab. The list includes many other celebrities who have admitted addiction to painkillers and other prescription drugs. These celebrities are of course fortunate that they can afford the expense of rehab, whereas many ordinary folk with the same problems cannot.
Worse, cases of dependence that led to the death of a celebrity by fatal overdose have soared in the last year or so: with several celebrity deaths linked to prescription drug abuse and overdose.
It is quite clear that the celebrity habit of pill-popping has become something of an epidemic and while celebrity tragedies make the headlines, they actually represent the tip of an iceberg.
In 2005 (the most recent year for which figures are so far available) non-medical use of painkillers contributed to more than 8,500 deaths in the US alone and overdose deaths involving prescription pain relievers increased 114% from 2001 to 2005, according the US Office of National Drug Control Policy. These figures are far more alarming than those recently quoted for Swine Flu amid panicky talk of pandemics, national emergencies and so forth, yet amazingly relatively little consternation is forthcoming over the greater carnage caused by these drugs!
In the light of the relentless marketing with which these drugs – along with the notion of popping a pill for every twinge or problem – are sold by their manufacturers, figures for subsequent years may well show further increases on the 2005 figures.
Prescription drugs have become the new addiction, a brand new problem heaped upon the mountain of drug problems our beleaguered culture has accrued, another tentacle of a social catastrophe that is going to cost us – and particularly its victims – dear as the years unfold.
But why are we having such a problem? Why have we become the somewhat sad spectacle of a culture whose enfeebled citizens pop pills for every twinge of discomfort and a crutch for every problem?
Underlying this cultural flaw there lies the billions spent by the pharmaceutical industry on marketing in order to instill a way of thinking about drugs favourable to their efforts to sell them and to persuade us to turn to a pill as a solution to whatever ails us. To achieve this persuasion, the dangers of those pills (the addictions and complications that can result from what are, so far as the body is concerned, powerful chemical poisons) are rarely brought fully and honestly to the attention of the target audience. One can understand how this comes about – an industry desperate to sell its products is going to be reluctant to draw our attention to the serious flaws in that product, particularly in an age in which honesty has become, to our immense cost, a dangerously devalued attribute.
Flanking this there is the issue of our faith in the medical profession. Too many doctors, trained in the drug-based paradigm in medical schools financially supported by the pharmaceutical giants, are prone to reach for the prescription pad and we – in the absence of sound advice from those who should provide it – assume the drugs we are prescribed, and indeed encouraged, to use are safe. As a result we tend to believe that prescription drugs are somehow safer and do not to take them as seriously as we should. The plain truth of the matter is that many prescription drugs are as harmful, and often MORE dangerous than street drugs.
This is a strange contradiction. Doctors quite rightly never miss an opportunity to tell us of the dangers of smoking, yet the often greater dangers of the concoctions that pour out of the psycho-pharmacy’s laboratories receive nothing like the same attention.
It is common in such cases of drug deaths for official reports to record death as being from a heart attack. This may be true but this begs the question of what causes the heart of a healthy young adult to stop beating.
What usually happens with celebrities and non celebrities alike is this: individuals take a drug or drugs initially to relieve a discomfort or to deal with a difficulty such as anxiety that is robbing them of sleep or poor concentration. They then increase their doses as their tolerance of the drug rises. This is the exact same pattern that occurs with ANY addictive drug but they tend not to worry as the drugs involved were originally prescribed by their physician and the physician did not advise them adequately – if at all – of the dangers. The drugs, particularly when used over an extended period, produce side effects (physical and mental) which are addressed by taking more drugs to suppress them. Eventually the patient ends up on a cocktail of drugs that progressively damages his or her health and mental state and can result in death.
In Britain in 2008 a parliamentary inquiry highlighted these very points. It concluded, for instance, that British doctors are contributing significantly to the increasing the numbers of people hooked on prescription drugs (such as painkillers, sleeping tablets and anti-anxiety pills).
For example, according to the British Home Office the misuse of benzodiazepines has caused a staggering 17,000 deaths in Britain since they came on the market in the 1960s. MPs declared they were “extremely concerned” to have received numerous testimonials from people STILL being negligently prescribed these drugs by their GPs.
Medical experts also told the inquiry that a growing, number of people had become addicted to painkillers, often after taking them initially for genuine medical complaints such as a sore back, period pains or bad headaches.
Many people have developed a dependence on addictive over-the-counter drugs irresponsibly marketed as “solutions” to headaches, period pains and so on.
The majority of those addicted to prescription drugs simply do not realize that ALL drugs – no matter how effective in alleviating a particular set of symptoms – are poisons. They fail to so realize because they do not receive thorough and accurate advice from their doctor.
There is then a strong element of irresponsibility on the part of too many members of the medical profession and this has hugely assisted the pharmaceutical industry’s profit-motivated drive to get as many millions of people as possible using their products as frequently as possible and for as long as possible.
That drive is further assisted by dereliction of duty on the part of our (hah!) governments that are quite capable, given the will, of raising standards among our doctors and insisting on some social responsibility on the part of those who market and sell drugs.
Parliamentary enquiries and hand-wringing are one thing but where is the ACTION that will start to roll back this catastrophe?