USA Abuse Of Painkillers Reaches Epidemic Levels

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Painkiller overdoses have exploded in the last decade. A new report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention says prescription pain medication kills more people each year than heroine and cocaine combined.

"Prescription painkiller overdoses killed nearly 15,000 people in the US in 2008. This is more than 3 times the 4,000 people killed by these drugs in 1999. ... Nearly half a million emergency department visits in 2009 were due to people misusing or abusing prescription painkillers."

The jump in deaths have been attributed to a surge in the number of narcotic painkillers prescribed every year, the most comm being Vicodin, OxyContin and Codeine.

KTLA spoke with an addiction therapist who says its easy for drug consumption to escalate after taking painkillers for legitimate reasons.

JOHN TSILIMPARIS: "It makes you feel better psychologically. It takes your stress away. It helps your depression. Things that you were worried about throughout the day are pretty much gone. So people will go back to using it."
OLGA OSPINA: "After a while they become not only dependent on the painkiller, they also develop a tolerance for it. Which means they might go from taking just two to three a day to 30 pills a day just to get the same effect. And if they mix with other drugs the effect could be especially dangerous."

And CBS spoke with a police chief who says law enforcement alone cannot deal with this rising trend.

SCOTT SALLY: We cannot continually detox and house these people in jail. Jail is not a place for an addict. But, here we are. ... The analogy I use is like standing on the beach with a tsunami rolling in on you. You may think that you can combat it, but it's going to take you with it. It's huge."

The government recently took steps to curb the rise of pill mills and doctor shopping. The Wall Street Journal Reports:

"Federal government has a big push underway to have the states come and set up a data base so that all the pharmacies all the doctors are talking to each other. So in other words, one person can't go to multiple doctors and rack up several prescriptions to get a whole bunch of Vicodin. There's no system right now that says hey Joe Smith, this is his fifth prescription for Vicodin this month."

But government regulations alone cannot curb the epidemic. ABC spoke with a doctor who said physicians need to better educated their patients about the effects and risks of prescription painkillers

HOWARD NEARMAN: "Physicians certainly need to be aware of the study so that they know that the dangers are real. And I think the patients need to be educated as well. When we prescribe this, when you skip a dose, don't double up the next time. You need to be aware that there are other medications that you may have in your medicine cabinet that may interact with these medications and make them even more dangerous. And we need to see those lists before you take any of those medications."

Last April the Obama Administration promised support to state based drug monitoring programs to combat the epidemic.

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