The ongoing investigation into Michael Jackson’s death has stirred questions about the pop icon’s use of prescription drugs and whether overmedicating played a role. The Christian Science Monitor says a misuse of prescription medication may have been a factor, shining new light on the widespread abuse of doctor-prescribed drugs. “The abuse of these drugs is only second to the abuse of marijuana,” says Gary Boggs of the Drug Enforcement Administration. Of the estimated 7 million Americans who abuse prescription drugs, 5.2 million of them are involved in some kind of improper use of pain relievers, such as Vicodin or OxyContin.
At least 8,500 deaths in 2005 were attributed to the overuse of painkillers. That’s a 114 percent increase in the number of fatalities associated with such abuse since 2001. And between 2004 and 2006, there was a 39 percent spike in the number of emergency-room visits that were connected to pain-reliever abuse. The number of people who seek treatment for painkiller addictions has also been rising. Five percent of all admissions to rehabilitation facilities was due to prescription medication abuse in 2007, a jump from just 1 percent in 1997, says the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America.