Posted at: 07/02/2014 10:29 PM
By: John Doetkott
According to a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, doctors wrote 259 million prescriptions for opioid painkillers in 2012, enough for every adult in the country to have their own bottle of pills.
The sheer volume has proven deadly with the CDC reporting that, on average, 46 people die every day in the United States from an overdose of prescription painkillers.
Opioids have a similar chemical makeup as heroin, and commonly prescribed drugs include Vicodin, Percocet, Oxycodone and Oxycontin.
Experts suggest prescriptions are up in part because patients are more aware that the drugs are out there and are demanding them from their doctors.
"Patients are becoming more knowledgeable of this and they're starting to have the expectation not to feel pain," said Larry Blair, director of Fountain Centers, an addiction treatment facility in Albert Lea.
But Blair said sometimes medical necessity can slip into addiction, with some going "doctor shopping," moving from one physician to the next, seeking new prescriptions.
Others may become hooked taking the drugs from family and friends, and that can lead to even darker consequences.
"They'll start taking that, but they don't have access to more of it, so that's when a lot of times they will turn to heroin,” Blair said.
And that's when the need to fuel the addiction becomes fuel for crime.
"People supplying the drug will always be there as long as there is a need,” said Mower County Sheriff Terese Amazi. “That's truly what needs to be focused upon, and I would say that's probably where we miss the boat."
Along with drug treatment programs, some states have reduced drug abuse by implementing a prescription monitoring system.
The system lets doctors keep a closer eye on their patient's medication by allowing them to see if the patient is receiving any prescriptions from other physicians.
"They're very effective for pain,” Blair said. “But it’s when they start to be misused by the individual that it becomes a problem."