(NaturalNews) Death by prescription drug continues to be a major health problem in the United States, as Big Pharma remains influential and dominant in traditional medical practice. But a noted neurosurgeon and contributing CNN health expert may represent the first chink in Big Pharma's formidable armor, according to a recently published commentary he authored, in which he discussed the scope of the problem.
"It's the biggest man-made epidemic in the United States. That's how a doctor in Washington state described it to me as we sat outside the state Capitol in Olympia," wrote Dr. Sanjay Gupta, in paraphrasing a discussion he had with Gary Franklin, medical director for Washington state's Department of Labor and Industries.
Franklin was lamenting a litany of "terrifying" cases where scores of innocent patients were killed by the very medications they had been prescribed, a worsening situation that had become "the saddest thing he had ever seen."
Alcohol + pain medications = Accidental overdose
In one particularly gloomy case, Franklin told Gupta about a teenager he'd heard about that had died after taking too much narcotic medication following a dental procedure.
The most common occurrences; however, according to Franklin, involve men in their 40s or 50s who went to see a doctor for back pain, and who then walked out of the office with a prescription for painkillers. An average of three years later, many of those same men die in their sleep from taking too many pills and mixing them with alcohol.
They're not trying to kill themselves, say the medical professionals, but some 20,000 times annually, or once every 19 minutes on average, that's what happens.
It has become so common, in fact, that accidental overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental deaths in the U.S., passing up automobile crashes.
"As a neurosurgeon working in a busy level 1 trauma hospital, I had an idea that the problem was growing - but the numbers still boggle the mind," Gupta wrote.
The numbers say it all. Distribution of morphine - the primary ingredient in the most popular of painkillers - has exploded 600 percent from 1997-2007, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency says. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called accidental overdoses of prescription medication "an epidemic."
"In the United States, we now prescribe enough pain pills to give every man, woman and child one every four hours, around the clock, for three weeks," Gupta says, adding that the problem usually only makes national headlines if a celebrity overdoses, not our close friends, neighbors or our own family members.
What brought the issue storming home for Gupta was a call from former President Bill Clinton:
He called me a few months ago, and I could immediately tell he was broken up about something. I had worked for him in the White House in the late '90s, talked to him countless times since then, and I had never heard him like this. Two of his friends had both lost sons, he told me. The cause: accidental overdose.
Gupta says he'll never forget how the former president framed the issue.
"Look, no one thinks having a few beers and an Oxycontin is a good idea, but you also don't expect to die," Clinton said, according to the neurosurgeon and CNN analyst.
It was then that Gupta said he felt a responsibility, as a medical expert and member of the media, "to shine a bright light on this issue and find solutions that work."
He notes that a good starting point would be to clean up our own act here in the U.S. He says 80 percent of the world's pain medications are taken in the United States, based on figures from 2011 congressional testimony from the American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians.
While there are no doubt legitimate cases for pain medication intervention, Gupta says, culturally our nation has become so intolerant of even minor amounts of pain; we have in turn become entirely too comfortable with taking heavy-duty pain medications.
What's needed is to change doctors' attitudes about pain treatment
What is probably less known; however, is that after just a few months of taking such medications, the body changes - it compensates for the over-medication, if you will.
The effectiveness of the pain med "wears off," Gupta explains, "and patients typically report getting only about 30 percent pain relief, compared with when they started." What's worse, he says, "a subgroup of these patients develop a condition known as hyperalgesia, an increased sensitivity to pain."
Gupta concludes that what really needs to happen is a sea change within the medical community regarding better, less dangerous ways to combat pain.
"In my upcoming documentary, I will explain how we arrived in this deadly situation, but more importantly, explore solutions to address it," he says.
We here at Natural News will keep an eye out for it and bring you his findings.