Urban Outfitters pulls drug-themed gear

Critics accused the store of using its novelty items to promote substance abuse. Health experts say America's prescribing itself enough problems as it is.

By Jason Notte Jun 19, 2013 4:27PM
What's the only thing more appealing to a young demographic than a controversial product playing on adult vices and flustering parents and authority figures? One that uses two such vices to make a sale.

Urban Outfitters (URBN) told CNN that it plans to halt production of prescription-themed coffee mugs, booze flasks, shot glasses, syringe shot shooters and other products after receiving complaints from The Partnership at Drugfree.org, The American Association of Poison Control Centers and the attorneys general from 22 states and Guam.

Urban Outfitters responded that the products were just satire playing on the general and widespread acceptance of alcohol and caffeine, but critics read them as endorsements for abusing painkillers.

The Partnership at Drugfree.org, in particular, accused Urban Outfitters of marketing said products to high school students during a time when prescription drug abuse among teenagers is up 33% since 2008. The president of the Association of Poison Control Centers wrote Urban Outfitters chief executive Richard Hayne a letter informing him that, “in 2011, (local poison control centers) managed 209,909 cases of exposures to painkillers. Of those, 21,752 were teens ages 13 to 19.” The attorneys general sent a letter calling prescription drug use no less than “a national health crisis.”

The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention agrees with that assertion, noting that one person in the U.S. dies every 19 minutes from a drug overdose. Half of those deaths involve prescription painkillers. Accidental overdoses in general have surpassed car accidents as the leading cause of accidental deaths in the U.S.

Yet even some medical experts say those critics shouldn't blame novelty items from the mall for the nation's prescription drug problems. CNN's Sanjay Gupta notes that the distribution of morphine used in prescription painkillers increased 600% from 1997 to 2007. In Gupta's own words, the United States now prescribes “enough pain pills to give every man, woman and child one every four hours, around the clock, for three weeks.”

In short, the problem isn't on Urban Outfitters' shelves. It's in your medicine cabinet.

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