We Americans really like to pop pills. The Associated Press has just reported that we’re increasingly strung out on prescription opioids, with sales ballooning from 2000 to 2010. In some parts of the US, receipts for oxycodone-based products – such as OxyContin, Percoset, and Percodan – surged sixteenfold; hydrocodone-based products such as Vicodin continue to gain solid ground in Appalachia and Middle America.

Indeed, insatiable demand for “hillbilly heroin” – sometimes doled out by doctors who want to legitimately treat pain, sometimes by physicians who want simply to shut up their patients – has prompted pharmacy robberies, and much worse. In fact, so many people have died from medication overdoses of late that they come to exceed car crashes as the US’s top cause of accidental death – a first since the government started tabulating such data in 1979, according to the LA Times. This equates to “more deaths than heroin and cocaine combined”.

Meanwhile, scripts for benzodiazepines – the class of anti-anxiety drugs including Xanax, Valium, Ativan, and Klonopin – have gone up 17% since 2006 to 94m annually, New York magazine notes. Generic Xanax, which goes by the name alprazolam, has become 23% more popular in that same timeframe “making it the most prescribed psycho-pharmaceutical drug and the 11th-most prescribed overall, with 46m prescriptions written in 2010”.

America’s Prescription Drug Addiction Suggests a Sick Nation, 4/10/12

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