Sales of popular prescription painkillers have increased dramatically nationwide, leading experts to believe a new addiction epidemic is taking over the United States.
Some areas saw a sixteenfold increase in distribution of oxycodone, the key ingredient in OxyContin, Percocet and Percodan, from 2000 to 2010, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. Hydrocodone, the key ingredient in Vicodin, Norco and Lortab, has seen raising rates in distribution, especially in the Midwest, reported the Associated Press,
The increase of drug distribution comes with a wave of overdose deaths, pharmacy robberies and other such effects in New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and across the U.S., reported the Associated Press. In 2008, 14,800 Americans overdosed on oxycodone and hydrocodone alone. That figure is increasing.
"Prescription medications can provide enormous health and quality-of-life benefits to patients," Gil Kerlikowske, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, told Congress in March. "However, we all now recognize that these drugs can be just as dangerous and deadly as illicit substances when misused or abused."
Gregory Bunt, the medical director at New York's Daytop Village, said doctors are more willing to treat the aging population's pain issues with medicine. He said users become dependent on painkillers and begin "doctor shopping" so they can score more drugs.
Hydrocodone and oxycodone can give the user feelings of pleasure. The pain meds can be taken in many ways, including swallowing, crushing, smoking, snorting, or injecting them into the bloodstream.
How much oxycodone and hydrocodone are Americans consuming? According to the Associated Press report, pharmacies dispensed 69 tons of oxycodone and 42 tons of hydrocodone in 2010. That gives each person in the United States 40 tablets of 5 mg Percocet and 25 5 mg Vicodin.
Many buyers are crossing state lines to have their prescriptions filled because of prescription drug monitoring programs. There are 40 states involved with the program. Yet it has one serious downside: Once an user is flagged in one state's system, they can easily cross over to another to get their prescription filled because there is no federal monitoring.
While sales are soaring, there are not enough clinics to treat abusers in areas that are hard hit with painkiller addiction.
"The pills are everywhere," Phyllis Ferraro said, whose daughter overdosed on pain meds at a mall. "There aren't enough treatment centers and yet there's a pharmacy on every corner."
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