A disturbing report out today from the AP details the rise in prescription painkiller abuse in the US. The DEA reports that the demand for oxycodone, the active ingredient in OxyContin, Percocet, and Percodan, has risen drastically from 2000 to 2010. In some areas of the US, sales increased sixteen fold in just ten years.
In lower income areas such as Appalachia, the distribution of Vicodin, Norco, and Lortab has also risen sharply. The key ingredient in these painkillers is hydrocodone, often referred to as "hillbilly heroin" because of its use in poorer regions. The data suggests that while painkiller abuse is still climbing in lower income areas, it is also prominent in affluent suburbs. As the prevalence of abuse grows in both these disparate economic groups it expands to encompass, well, everyone. In 2010, there were 14,800 opiate-related overdose deaths in the US, and the numbers continue to grow as prescriptions and abuse increase.
Read also, Anatomy of the Great Adderall Drought.
The sharp increase in prescriptions is likely due to a number of factors. The American population is aging, and the elderly are more likely to experience pain that requires drug management. The problem is also likely due to a cultural shift in the medical community. Doctors today are more likely to prescribe narcotics to patients suffering from any number of issues. I personally know a number of women who have received opiate medication for especially painful periods. While it's true that menstrual cramps can be extremely painful and can affect a woman's quality of life, it wasn't common for women to rely on opiate painkillers to manage that pain even twenty years ago.
The more people who are exposed to painkillers, highly physically addictive drugs, the more people will eventually become reliant upon them. Rates of opiate prescriptions are also way up in areas with Veteran's hospitals and military bases. Soldiers returning from the Middle East often require pain management for injuries they've received in combat. But the drugs also provide a rush of dopamine — and an accompanying feeling of wellbeing — so their abuse is likely partially psychological as well. Public health officials are concerned that there aren't enough treatment centers dealing with opiate addiction to serve a generation affected by a painkiller addiction epidemic.
Follow Kelly Bourdet on Twitter: @KellyBourdet.