Prescription drug overdose is now the leading cause of accidental death in the United States.
Motor vehicle deaths are second, according to Rod Colvin of Omaha, Neb., who has authored “Overcoming Prescription Drug Addiction: A Guide to Coping and Understanding.”
Nearly 35,000 Americans die annually from prescription drug overdoses, the author noted. Someone dies every 14 minutes.
“Addiction to prescription drugs is now one of the nation’s most serious drug problems,” Colvin said in an interview with the Courier.
Colvin’s passion for writing the book was fueled by the death of his 35-year-old brother, who died as a result of his long-term addiction to prescription pain killers.
“I’ve experienced firsthand what addiction does to individuals and their families,” Colvin said. “Unfortunately, the problem has escalated over the last decade.”
Prescription drug abuse now outranks the use of all illegal drugs combined, coming in second only to marijuana use.
And the problem is growing in Iowa.
The 2013 Iowa Drug Control Strategy Report was recently issued by the Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy. State officials said the report cites progress last year in reducing meth labs, the use of synthetic drugs and in alcohol offenses.
But the report cites increases in crimes involving heroin and marijuana and the diversion and abuse of prescription drugs.
Nearly 62 Iowans died last year of drug-related overdoses involving prescription painkillers. That’s nearly an eightfold increase from a decade ago.
Ottumwa Police Sgt. Jason Bell, supervisor of the Southeast Iowa Inter-Agency Drug Task Force, is well aware of the dangers and criminal concerns associated with prescription drug abuse.
“Quite frankly, we’re not seeing this coming to the forefront, but people are obtaining [the drugs] under false pretenses,” Bell said. “Then they sell the drugs on the street for a profit. There’s a high demand for it.”
Bell also said the task force has had cases in which undercover officers drove a user to their doctor to get a prescription, they got in line and then turned around and sold the officers every bit of it.
“This shows the level people will go to obtain the medication under false pretenses,” he added.
Bell said officers knew of a Jasper County doctor who has been charged and is facing federal indictment on several distribution charges.
“It’s not just a street-level problem,” Bell said. “The problem is with doctors who are prescribing to those who don’t need it.”
As for Colvin, he knows all too well the cost of abusing prescription drugs. He said the loss of his only sibling was deep and profound.
“Another piece is the frustration to think his death was hastened by the use of prescription drugs,” Colvin said. “He wasn’t buying on the street corner. He was clever and could get any drug he wanted.”
Colvin spoke of the personal deep loss he felt about his brother. Frustration was also part of realizing his brother’s death came as a result of access to legal drugs, such as tranquilizers and painkillers.
As to his grief about his brother, Colvin said it was “just a process in self education” as he learned to understand addiction as a disease.
“I thought my brother took pills because he liked to party, but he was in emotional pain and wasn’t having fun,” Colvin said. “He used the pills to mask feelings. All addiction is about that, whether it’s spending money, gambling, or other compulsive behaviors.”
He said he wrote the book to share with other people. His family enabled his brother because they loved him and wanted to help him.
“If love cured addiction, addicts wouldn’t have any problems,” he added.
The family tried to help the younger brother “just enough to get him on his feet,” but the more you help, the more the addict demands.
“My mother was living at the time, and it was devastating for her,” Colvin said. “As painful as it was, our family wasn’t totally surprised, due to my brother’s problems over 15 years, including near overdoses.
“Addiction is a chronic progressive disease that’s ultimately fatal without intervention,” he said. “And, it doesn’t get better unless there’s a concerted effort from the person who wants help. You can’t make them and can’t love them enough. The addict has to want the help.”
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