Katie found herself flat on her back in pain after falling off her bicycle as she swerved to avoid a collision with a car. She was taken to the emergency department, where she was examined, X-rayed, and given a five-day supply of a prescription pain-killer along with a note saying, “Make an appointment to see your doctor as soon as possible.”
Though no one asked, Katie had a history of regular alcohol use and occasional binge drinking on weekends. Her father died of liver disease after many years of heavy drinking. Katie stayed away from most illegal drugs, though she tried marijuana a few times.
Katie had trouble filling her prescription after she left the emergency room late at night. Her nearest 24-hour pharmacy told her they do not carry narcotic pain medicine because they are a target for robberies. When she finally was able to fill her prescription, the pain was so bad that she took double the prescribed dose of medicine. She was running low before she could get an appointment with her doctor, but she found that if she took it with alcohol, it did the trick.
Her doctor agreed that her injuries were bad enough to require additional narcotic pain medications, which he prescribed for a month followed by a couple of refills. Katie quickly filled the prescription. On her way out of the pharmacy, she was stopped by a young man who offered to buy her medication for twice what she had paid. Katie turned the other way and rushed home to take her medication.
Katie could hardly get out of bed, the pain was so bad. After a few pills and a little alcohol, she was able to get going. Getting her work done was an ordeal and she mostly looked forward to the weekends. Partying took on a new meaning now, as it was an escape from constant pain.
One Saturday night, several months after her injury, Katie’s friends planned a party to celebrate her 30th birthday. Katie tried her best to get herself together to go to the party despite the pain. She thought a little extra medication and a few drinks were what she needed. She soon felt so tired that before getting ready for the party, she decided to lie down for a little nap. She never heard the knock on the door by her friends, who wanted to know why she did not show up at the party. By the time they had called the rescue squad and the responders had broken in the door, she was found lying in her bed without a heartbeat, a victim of an unintentional prescription overdose.
Katie’s friends were astonished to hear that unintentional prescription overdoses now rival motor vehicle injuries, suicides, and firearms as causes of death among young people, far exceeding deaths from illegal drugs. Traditionally a cause of death among young males, deaths from unintentional drug overdoses are rapidly increasing among females. Drug overdoses often occur from a combination of prescription narcotic pain medicine with alcohol, which together form a common and deadly combination that is widely available.