Since 1997, when the United States became one of only two developed nations that allows direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising, addiction to prescription drugs and prescription drug overdoses have quadrupled (Real Leaders, 2016). In fact, last year, deaths due to prescription drug overdoses surpassed 50,000 per year, dwarfing the number of deaths due to motor vehicle accidents (37,757) and to gun violence (36,252) (Chicago Tribune, 2016).
Especially culpable are synthetic opioids, a class of central nervous system depressants such as tranquilizers, sedatives, and pain relievers, which claimed a death toll of 9,580 people in 2016, representing a 73% increase (Chicago Tribute, 2016). Although abuse of prescription painkillers such as Vicodin and OxyContin only increased by 4%, they took the largest toll, killing 17,536 (Chicago Tribune, 2016). In fact, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that for the first time in twenty years, the nation’s life expectancy declined, and cited drug overdoses as a significant contributing factor (Chicago Tribune, 2016).
Although the hyper-politicized war on terror receives far more publicity, prescription drugs kill nearly fifteen times as many Americans per year than the casualty toll of domestic terrorist attacks from over thirteen years combined (Real Leaders, 2016). Rather than stemming from an illicit transaction on a dimly lit street corner with an unscrupulous character, eighty percent of opioid addictions originate from a stethoscope-wearing, prescription-pad wielding physician dispensing legitimate prescriptions for pain medication (Real Leaders, 2016). Furthermore, instead of being distributed via drug trafficking rings commandeered by international drug lords, the opioids are manufactured in pristine labs by Big Pharma, with legal sanction from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) (Tough, 2001).