“There aren’t enough treatment centers and yet there’s a pharmacy on every corner.”
That’s how one mother of a teenage addict described what an Associated Press analysis has unveiled: a prescription drug problem so huge that it spans the 3,000-plus mile breadth of the United States.
The AP reports that Drug Enforcement Administration figures show dramatic rises between 2000 and 2010 in the distribution of oxycodone, the key ingredient in OxyContin, Percocet and Percodan. Some places saw sales increase sixteenfold, according to the AP.
From Appalachia to New York to Florida to the Southwest, so much prescription medication has been dispensed that, according to the analysis, “it is the equivalent of 69 tons of pure oxycodone and 42 tons of pure hydrocodone in 2010, the last year for which statistics are available. That’s enough to give 40 5-mg Percocets and 24 5-mg Vicodins to every person in the United States.”
That’s frightening data, coming from information collected by the DEA’s Automation of Reports and Consolidated Orders System.
The use of oxycodone, once the drug of choice in poverty-stricken Appalachia and upper-class enclaves, has spread rapidly in the past 10 years. The drug produces a feeling of intense well-being, the AP reports, and is swallowed as pills, or crushed and smoked, snorted and injected.
The result is waves of overdoses — 14,000 recorded in 2008 — robberies of pharmacies and teenagers raiding medicine cabinets not only in their own homes but those of their friends and acquaintances, looking for those magic pills increasingly dispensed with ease by many doctors, whether they are of high repute or operating pill mills. Methamphetamine addicts in California reportedly are turning to prescription painkillers, and emergency rooms are seeing increases in addicts seeking a refill they can’t get elsewhere. “Doctor-shopping” is the term used to describe an addict’s search for more medication, and all too often they are able to find someone who will give them what they want.
While painkillers have a valid and valuable role in the medical community, the ease at which patients with legitimate reasons for using them are becoming addicted is frightening. There are countless stories of people you and we know well who are prescribed heavy-duty painkillers that they become addicted to.
Those stories make that teenager’s mother’s words even more poignant. So many legal drugs readily available; so few ways to treat the problem. And none of those are in Imperial County.
Abuse of prescription painkillers has soared nationwide.
Treating the problem doesn’t seem to be a priority.
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