Watch AiR's Andrew Wainwright's interview on CNN
16 states across the nation, more people die from drug-related incidents than die in traffic accidents. AiR’s founder and CEO, Andrew Wainwright discussing why drug deaths might be on the rise ““ the CDC points to the increase in abuse of prescription medication.
Aired October 1, 2009 – 07:00 ET
CNN AMERICAN MORNING HOST JOHN ROBERTS: Some shocking new statistics coming your way from the Centers for Disease Control. In 16 states across the nation, more people die from drug-related incidents than die in traffic accidents. So what could be done about it? We’ll find out. 38 and a half minutes after the hour.
ROBERTS: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. Startling new statistics as we said from the Centers for Disease Control. In 16 states and counting, drugs now kill more people than car accidents. While traffic accidents remain the biggest injury- related cause of death across the country, drug overdoses are on the rise. Why is this happening?
Andrew Wainwright is the president and CEO of Assistance in Recovery Incorporated and kicked his own addiction a decade ago. He joins us from Minneapolis this morning.
So Andrew, according to the Centers for Disease Control, drug- related deaths in the United States have doubled from the late 1990s to 2006. Why the rise?
ANDREW WAINWRIGHT, PRESIDENT & CEO, ASSISTANCE IN RECOVERY, INC.: Well, I think two important factors, John. One, in the mid 1990s, a mandate came down from Jaco and others saying we were under prescribing for pain medically, across the board. And we needed to write more prescriptions for pain. So that began and docs began to do that. We saw a rise in the writing of prescriptions.
At the same time, we saw the big pharmaceutical companies begin the kickoff primarily in January of 1996. (INAUDIBLE) Pharma kicked off OxyContin. So we saw the rise of the selling of pharmaceutical drugs, heavy narcotics both to the consumers and to the docs. So I think the combination of those two factors – in the mid ’90s, exactly where we are, the swing of the pendulum where we have unintended overdoses. And this is interesting, in hospital and on the street today.
ROBERTS: Is it just because of the availability of drugs? Or is it also a public perception issue? I ask you that because Margaret Warner, an epidemiologist for the Centers of Disease Control talked about this yesterday. And here’s what she said. She said, “People see a car accident as something that might happen to them. But as far as drug overdoses go,” she says, “maybe they see it as something that’s not going to happen to them.”
You know, you get in a car. You know you’re going out there in the flow of traffic. You have a license, you have insurance. You know that it’s possible that you could get into a car accident. When taking drugs, do people say, I might overdose? I better be careful here or better still, I’m not going to do it at all?
WAINWRIGHT: Well, I think we also have, let’s say 40 good years of education without car accidents. If you remember back there was a time when nobody wore seat belts. And then we saw the rise of air bags and all kinds of other safety insurance to make sure that we got safer. We’re raised with years of commercials and high school showings of drunk driving and all those things what happens to people.
I don’t know if we’ve seen that piece of education for the general public around drug addiction from prescription drugs. We certainly see it in the DARE program and others for narcotics that you find in the street but prescription drugs, they sort of see it safe. They come from your doctor. They’re prescribed. They come in a clean bottle. They’re sold to you from a clean environment. You take them home to your house where you take them. And it doesn’t seem there’s a lot of danger there.
It’s very far removed from what you see in the evening news, the drug wars in Mexico. It doesn’t seem that it’s the same thing as the narcotics that I’m taking at my house. So it shouldn’t have the same result. And so the study comes out like the ones that we’re seeing from the CDC and we’re really surprised that people, us, our kids, our friends and neighbors are overdosing. We can’t really put the two together.
So I think we’re talking about a missing educational component that this is serious narcotics that’s being probably today, over prescribed or made overly readily available or the ones that we have in our homes aren’t being destroyed quickly enough as they are being diverted to the street. All of the things I think we’re beginning to get educated about.
So I think we should be happy on some level that A, the CDC did the study; B, CNN wants to talk about it; and C, it’s going out to America saying this is a real problem and we need to get more education and understand what’s going on so that we can stop it.
ROBERTS: Well, we here at CNN always want to talk about the important topics. You know, Centers for Disease Control in terms of this idea for prescribing, its report said that one in five adults now is prescribed an opiate every year. And you talk about education, there is one new area where we seem to be getting it as a nation, and that is the danger of our children getting a hold of prescription drugs that were prescribed for adults. Let’s take a look at this PSA, I think, that many are familiar with now.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The yellow one – this is for my postpartum depression. This one, sciatica – whatever that is. I got these after my hysterectomy – or my prostatectomy – some “ectomy.”
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ROBERTS: And are PSAs like that helping to illuminate the problem, at least, of young people getting drugs out of their parents’ medicine cabinet?
WAINWRIGHT: I can only say I hope so. But I think that education is key at all areas of – of going to war against, you know, what’s becoming an epidemic for us culturally. I think it’s going to be a lot of education, needs to be a lot of time, because this has become, really, a cultural issue. I think it’s -
Well, you can look at pharm parties for high school kids. I think it’s culturally part of what we do is we have heavy narcotics in our home. We’re not loathe to share them with our friends and family if they are in pain. It’s sort of, you know, we carry these in our purse, we carry them on the plane, it’s part of who we are culturally. I think a big piece of that needs to change, and so I think, yes, the PSA is going to help. It’s going to take a lot of them, and I think it’s going to take a lot more of you and I and folks like us talking about this, making it important for everybody.
ROBERTS: All right. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that the (ph) decline of road fatalities, which is one reason why drug deaths in some states have surpassed traffic fatalities is because of advances that were made in reducing traffic fatalities, but the safety administration says that it’s – it’s one of the great public health triumphs over the last few decades, to lower the number of deaths on the roadways. What can be done to make similar strides in drug abuse?
WAINWRIGHT: Well, you’re talking – you know, I’m a “change the world” guy, so I would – you know, I think it’s great that we lowered it 1 percent or 2 percent or whatever it was for traffic fatalities. You know, I’m all for making big changes. So I think that the pendulum began to swing in one direction in 1995 when we had these two major incidents happen around overprescribing of heavy narcotics. I think what – the CD (ph) study is great because it gets us talking about it, so we’re hoping that the pendulum is going to swing as far as this can go in this direction and we’re going to push it back the other way.
So let’s pick a mean, let’s say 1996, 1997, 1998 – that somewhere in there we’re going to say that’s the gold mean where we’re prescribing enough to manage and treat the pain that America is presenting with but we’re not overprescribing and allowing drugs to be (INAUDIBLE) in the street. And then we’re going to culturally change how we understand and think about the use of these kinds of prescribed drugs.
ROBERTS: Andrew Wainwright – a “change the world” kind of guy. You managed to change your world. You changed many other people’s. See if we can keep going from here. Thanks for being with us this morning. Appreciate it.
WAINWRIGHT: Thanks, John.
ROBERTS: Forty-seven and a half minutes now after the hour.
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