Heroin, cocaine, crack, crystal meth, bath salts. All of these and other illicit drugs have all been commonly known to us as the "bad" and "dangerous" drugs. The type of life decisions that lead to broken families and flirtations with death. And while that all is very true, they don't claim nearly as many lives as another category of drugs with a very different public image.
Drugs pushed not by an offensively stereotypical small-time drug dealer, but by a drug dealer with a prescription pad and a white lab coat is the ones responsible for more deaths than any illegal substance in America. And it's not even close. In 2014, a total of 18,893 people died at the hands of prescription pills, and more specifically opioids; over 25% more than the deadliest illicit drug, heroin.
And while heroin deservedly gets all the bad media headlines, prescription opioids are often viewed as safer because they're prescribed to you by a medical professional. It's important to note that heroin and opioids are both derivatives of opium. The main difference is one is pharmaceutically harnessed and sold legally by powerful corporations while the other is illegal and carries with it the harshest of drug-classification criminal charges.
In 2014, more than 52 people a day died from a prescribable painkiller. By 2015, that number had risen to more than 55 people a day that died from a prescribable painkiller. That's more than 2 people an hour.
As John Oliver so eloquently lays out in the lengthy-but-oh-so-worth-it above clip, millions of Americans have been directed towards highly addictive or harmful medications in the name of profits. Fixing the problem is going to require the country to reassess drug addiction and how to treat it. With less demonization and more compassion. More sentencing geared towards rehabilitation rather than the old guard of prison time. More research into alternative treatments for pain and less fatal pill pushing.
Because at the end of the day, if doctors are going to betray their patients' trust and continue to recklessly prescribe them with the same medications that take the lives of more than 2 people an hour without first exploring alternative methods, then they should have their cases, and their possible pharmaceutical relationships, reviewed.