More Americans die from drug overdoses each year than were kille - CBS46 News

More Americans die from drug overdoses each year than were killed in Vietnam

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ATLANTA (CBS46) -

The rate people are dying annually from opioid-based drugs in America has surpassed the death toll in Vietnam.

The most recent numbers show more than 60,000 people died from abusing pain medication in 2016, compared with about 58,000 killed over the course of the 20-year conflict in southeast Asia.

The numbers from Blue Cross-Blue Shield show the number of people addicted to opioid-based pills jumped 600 percent between 2010-2016.

One former nurse told a panel of experts at Emory University that the huge numbers of victims are desensitizing hospital staff and causing what she calls "compassion fatigue" in emergency rooms.

"I have some friends who say they don't need the Narcan, just let them go because they're going to be right back in here in an hour," said the former nurse.

Narcan is the life-saving drug that is, for the first time, being sold over-the-counter in Georgia. They handed the nasal sprays out for free to students on the Emory University campus during an awareness event Wednesday.

The panelists involved in the discussion say teens and young adults are most at risk.

"If a young person under the age of 21 is exposed to an opioid-based medication, there's an 80 percent chance they might become addicted," explained David Laws.

It's something he wished he knew when his 15-year-old daughter, Laura, got a doctor's prescription for a soccer injury and later got hooked.

"It's a mistake that turned out to be fatal because people make mistakes," he said. 

After his daughter's death, he's been a successful advocate for getting Narcan nasal sprays in the hands of ordinary people in Georgia, not just emergency responders.

Pharmacies are selling the sprays over the counter for prices that average $100.

It usually only takes one spray up the nose to revive someone who is close to death from taking opioid-based pills.

Panelists at Emory's event agreed the tradition of placing 100 percent of the blame for addiction on the person abusing medication is an outdated way of thinking. They believe doctors, pill makers and the government share in the responsibility for the way things currently are.

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