Prescription Drug Panic

Friday, July 4th, 2008

Jack Shafer explains why the latest report on overdose deaths attributable to prescription drugs is mostly exaggerated.

We’ve seen this all before. Shafer debunks a media account of a study on prescription drug overdoses in Florida. Florida is also where the OxyContin panic started back in 2003–due in part to drug warriors and the media making the very same mistakes about a similar report from same Florida Medical Examiner’s Commission. People who died of drug overdoses with OxyContin in their systems were marked up as overdoses attributable to OxyContin. Never mind whatever they myriad other drugs that may have been present.

Because Oxy scripts had taken off at the time (do to its effectiveness, not to a glut of corrupt, drug-dealing doctors), naturally there would be an uptick in people visiting emergency rooms with OxyContin in their systems. There would also be an uptick in plumbers, city workers, and TV repairment with Oxy in their systems. Nevertheless, the narrative that emerged was that Oxy was “accidentally” addicting people, then killing them.

This led to full-blown media hysteria, a series in the Orlando Sentinel that was later retracted, legislative hearings, and all sorts of onerous legislation and investigations and regulatory and legal harassment of legitimate pain doctors and their patients. The lingering result is that it’s more difficult for pain patients to get a drug that actually works at the dosages they need.

Point being, these lazy media reports can have dramatic, real-world consequences.

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11 Responses to “Prescription Drug Panic”

  1. #1 |  ClubMedSux | 

    Sounds like the Florida Medical Examiner’s Commission has been taking logic classes from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which categorizes “alcohol-related fatalities” as any death in which anyone involved has any alcohol in their system (even if that person were, say, a pedestrian with a BAC of 0.01 who was run over on the sidewalk by a completely sober driver).

  2. #2 |  FP | 

    Sort of like all the hysteria going on now with cough syrup. Oh no! It kills kids! Some kid OD’d and had tons and tons of robitussin in his system. Ignore the fact the kid had serious depression issues and was ingesting it for months or that he was a pot smoker, drinker and possibly cocaine in there as well (im thinking of some ABC news story from last year IIRC). No, it was only the cough syrup that killed him, not the effing mix of drugs all combined.

    Or all the baloney with spray paint having to be behind a locked counter display etc. due to taggers but even more so due to “paint huffers”. Even worse, I was in a Fred Meyer store the other day where they had a note saying they wouldn’t sell canned compressed air (for cleaning electronics etc) to anyone under 17 and all purchases required ID. omgwtfbbq!

  3. #3 |  Chris | 

    It’s pretty depressing to see the lack of mathematical reasoning in the press corps in general. It would be nice for them to understand real stats on top of that.

  4. #4 |  OGRE | 

    to follow up Chris’ post:

    When I was in college I was tutoring students in economics. I had a student who was a junior in the journalism school and we were going over money multipliers for her macro-econ class. The problems presented were very simply mathematically; the textbook was just trying to illustrate the concept not make them work calculators.

    Generally all that needed to be done was to divide 100,000 by 0.1. The girl had no clue how to do it. Even after I explained it to her several times (“just move the decimal point”). She simply couldn’t do it.

    At that point I revised my rankings for majors with the dumbest students. Education moved from 1st to 2nd…

  5. #5 |  Stephen | 

    whatever they myriad other drugs…????

  6. #6 |  Balloon Maker | 

    nice generalization ogre.

  7. #7 |  KBCraig | 

    As someone with a BA in Journalism, I agree with Ogre’s generalization, although I would still rank Elementary Education #1.

    By the time I graduated, I was so disgusted by the naïve imbeciles who wanted to “make a difference in the world!” by being journalists, and those who thought “reporting” consisted of reducing the story to two sides and getting competing quotes from each side, that I never worked a day in the field. (Those subsets had considerable overlap, by the way.)

    The first lesson in j-school is, “What is news?” Even when students learn to define it, they seem to forget it before entering the field.

    Not all j-school graduates should be judged by those “reporters” seen on television, of course. I have noticed that a considerable number of TV reporters have degrees in Communications, and were either jocks or pageant queens during their undergrad years.

    If Elementary Ed is the degree for people who don’t know what else they could possible succeed at, and Journalism is the degree for those who couldn’t pass any other course of study, then Communications is the degree for those who are in college because they’ve won athletic or pageant scholarships, and have no other reason or motivation to pursue higher learning.

  8. #8 |  Jim Collins | 

    Since when did the media let a little things like facts get in the way of a story.

  9. #9 |  Woog | 

    I’ve had three medical procedures requiring strong painkillers. The first two doctors prescribed Oxycotin/Percocet. It worked great in that I felt no pain, and believed myself to be generally unimpaired mentally.

    The third time, one of the same doctors who prescribed Percocet for a similar procedure proscribed Vicodin. I knew something was different when I woke up with all my limbs completely numb, and then couldn’t take a piss. A friend noticed that I was acting very strangely, as if I couldn’t think straight. This friend also took my blood pressure numerous times, and it was all over the place.

    I survived, but even so I’m yet another victim of this damned war on US citizens, aka the “drug war”.

  10. #10 |  primus | 

    FP: your signoff. bbq? roflmao

  11. #11 |  Steve Verdon | 

    Reminds me of a quote by Mark Twain, “There are lies, damn lies, and then there are statistics…” or something like that.

    I do statistics for a living. And it is not unreasonable to conclude that when a new drug becomes available that we’d also expect to see an increase in the number of cases where there are problems with the new drug. This isn’t news it is trivial.

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