Overdosing on Reality: New NC Law Needed Because Problem is Now an Epidemic

HICKORY N.C. — Time was when you heard about someone overdosing it usually meant they had ingested or injected too much illicit narcotics.

Now, when you hear someone has overdosed the likely culprit could just as easily be prescription drugs.

Overdose deaths from prescription pain killers now exceed both heroine and cocaine overdose deaths, with the increase over the two illicit drugs beginning more than a decade ago around 2000, according to information from the North Carolina Injury & Violence Prevention branch of state Division of Public Health.

The statistics on overdoses in the country and state are staggering. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of overdose deaths of prescription painkillers skyrocketed in the last decade. The CDC calls the problem a public health epidemic.

The problem has grown more than 300 percent from 1999 to 2011, according to the state Division of Public Health.

“Enough prescription painkillers were prescribed in 2010 to medicate every American adult around-the-clock for a month,” according to the CDC. “Although most of these pills were prescribed for a medical purpose, many ended up in the hands of people who misused or abused them.”

Nearly half a million emergency department visits in 2009 were due to people misusing or abusing prescription painkillers, the CDC says.

The western part of North Carolina is one of the most affected areas by the problem of overdoses from prescription drugs, according to state Sen. Austin Allran, R-Catawba/Alexander.