A startling fact was revealed this morning at the National Prescription Drug Abuse Summit in Orlando, FL. Last year, 38,000 people died in this country from prescription drug abuse. That is more than died in workplace and auto accidents combined.
The discussion here is clinical, and by nature somewhat detached from the devastation caused by the topic of the summit. Still, there is a chilling reminder present that starkly displays why all of us are here. It is a reminder that shows the faces of the victims of drug addiction. Dozens and dozens of young, ambitious faces. Faces that are no longer with us. Faces that now symbolize death, destruction and personal loss at the hands of illegal and prescription drugs. This “Memory Wall” reminds us all of the reality of the tragedy addressed here, and puts a distinct human feel to an otherwise technical and clinical event.
The facts are shocking. The US accounts for over half of all opioid consumption, and over 80% of all Oxycodone produced in the world. In 2010 there were 257 million prescriptions written, up almost 48% from the 174 million written in 2000, just 10 years prior. And there were, of course, those 38,000 deaths. 38,000 faces to add to our Memory Wall.
The Memory Wall is provided by the Narcotics Overdose Prevention & Education Task Force (NOPE Task Force). NOPE Task Force is an organization dedicated to helping families struggling to deal with the loss of a loved one to drug abuse. They “raise awareness and open the doors to recovery by eliminating the prejudice that has followed the disease of addiction”. Raise awareness, indeed. Containing both individual photos and brief bios provided by the grieving families, their Memory Wall does what it was intended to do.
There will be much dialogue and discussion over the next three days addressing prescription drug abuse, and every detail will be scrutinized. None of that discussion, however, will clarify the issue like the simple wall of despair sitting quietly in the lobby. It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words. By that measure the Memory Wall speaks volumes, almost drowning out the well intentioned and purposeful presentations occurring just a few feet away. It is doing what none of us can. It is putting a face on death and pain caused by prescription drug abuse.