The History of Prescription Drug Addiction in America

prescription drug abuse 300x225 The History of Prescription Drug Addiction in AmericaThe history of prescription drug addiction in America is somewhat controversial, with much denial that prescription drugs when used as prescribed can cause people to become addicted. Prescription drugs have developed into a major industry, with the problem of addiction being ascribed to the fault of patients who have used their medication improperly and otherwise than as prescribed. The use of illicit drugs has also developed into a major, albeit unlawful industry.

In real terms there is no difference between addictive drugs that are lawfully manufactured, and those illicitly made. The basic formulae for the illicit drugs that are made, may originate from licensed drug research and development, or as with licensed drugs, be derived from or a synthetic version of original botanical sources. The dichotomy as between legal and illegal drugs is not based on the concept of the potential for “harm”, but whether the drug is socially “accepted”, and the producer has a license.

Traditionally, non-toxic, natural preparations, and relatively unpressured lifestyles meant that addiction was rarely an outcome of using medications as prescribed by the local medicine man or village healer. The problem of addiction to modern prescription drugs is a direct result of their increased potency, efficacy to stop symptoms of illness or pain, and inherent toxicity.

Widespread addiction to prescription drugs in America is a result of drug use being seen as a solution to health care needs, by which symptoms are medicated without providing a cure for the underlying condition. Endemic illness and related addiction generates vast revenues to a healthcare industry that strives to find new medications, for a range of new diseases.

Early Years America

The history of prescription drug addiction in America reveals that the early prescription drug market was unregulated. Any entrepreneur was entirely free to market concoctions as medications. Headache, sciatica, upset stomachs – cures for everyday maladies were peddled freely by itinerant salesmen, and sold mail order, just as on the Internet today. Medications were well laced with opiates – their efficacy to cure illness largely a placebo effect.

Civil war The History of Prescription Drug Addiction in AmericaThe American Civil War

Civil war and the widespread use of morphine for injuries saw an epidemic rise in prescription drug abuse as soldiers returned to their homes, addicted to morphine. Housewives used laudanum (tincture of opium), cough mixtures contained codeine, paregoric was a potent alcohol and opium mix. America has had a large prescription drug addicted population since the early 1900’s.

Beginning of Regulation

Attempts to quell endemic narcotic addiction began with the closure of opium dens in the late 1890’s, followed by regulation of labeling in1906, and reinforced by the Harrison Act of 1914, that required narcotics to be prescribed by a medical doctor, and supplied by a licensed pharmacy. Unfortunately doctors then, as today, remained largely oblivious to the addictive potential of narcotics. Many doctors became themselves addicted, and it is reported that, by 1938 25,000 doctors had been charged under the Harrison Act with narcotics offences.

The War on Drugs

Two world wars led to research and development in the pharmaceutical industry bringing sedatives, tranquilizers, painkillers and stimulants. A fairly laissez faire approach to the problem of prescription and illicit drug addiction was pulled up during the Nixon administration, whereby a ‘war on drugs” was declared. A 5 tier schedule restricted narcotics use, to bona fide medications – those unnecessary for medication being the most highly restricted., under the Comprehensive Drug Abuse and Control Act.

In 1972, the same year that the American government voted $1 billion dollars to fight the war on drugs, of 780 inmates at the Bronx house of corrections, 400 were routinely prescribed tranquilizers such as valium, and Librium – despite correctional officers at the time saying that prescription medications made their job harder – “an inmate once addicted to his medication, will do “anything” when he can’t get it”. “New York Times 1972 Dec 26.p18.

Anti-Drug Acts

The Anti-Drug Abuse Acts of 1985, and 1988, added more sanctions to illicit drug use and established the Office of National Drug Control, an authority that focuses on external drug threats, leaving the issue of the “enemy within”, the licensed prescription drug industry – to be dealt with by other authorities.

FDA Drug Approbations

Approval by the FDA is the benchmark of prescription drug safety. The majority of drugs get onto the market as a result of persuasive marketing by drug manufacturers, and a perception of public need. Most drugs are approved with testing incomplete, and sometimes, as in the case of oxycontin, the FDA has been encouraged to grant approval on the basis of misleading information. Drug recalls and voluntary restraints are commonplace as drugs prove themselves to be more hazardous than anticipated.

Big Pharma Directors Escaping Sentences

Whereas in 1973, 67% of Americans voted to have all hard drug sellers imprisoned for life, with no possibility of parole (Gallop Poll 1973), when Perdue Pharma, was convicted in 2007 of failing to disclose the addictive potential of OxyContin, a plea bargain was struck, that saw a massive fine paid, and the directors avoided jail sentences. It was said at the time to be impossible to identify all the victims, and the harm done as a result of OxyContin addiction .

Current Scene

prescription drugs death 300x225 The History of Prescription Drug Addiction in America

OxyContin, as with other addictive prescription pain relief drugs continues to be sold on the US market, with many doctors known to be regular “over prescribers”, and no effective sanctions in place. After alcohol, and marijuana, prescription medications are the most widely used and abused drugs in America. Since 1990, prescription drug abuse in the USA has risen by more than 500%.

Addiction to prescription narcotics contributes to statistics in which over 6 million children in America live in a home where at least one parent is a drug addict, with prescription drug addiction now the 2nd highest cause of death in the USA.

The history of prescription drug addiction in America is a legacy of loss that authorities don’t seem to have an intention, or capacity to remedy.

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Article by Jane Waterberry

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