Prescription Painkiller Addiction Down, Heroin Addiction Up

Prescription Painkiller Addiction and Death Dropping, but Heroin Addiction on the Rise

prescription painkiller abuseNew federal data from the Centers for Disease Control show that prescription painkiller addiction and death tolls are finally dropping for the first time since 1999. However, another opioid addiction is on the rise – heroin addiction, which the CDC believes to be related to the lowering rates of prescription painkiller abuse.

Prescription painkiller addiction and abuse, including OxyContin, Vicodin, hydrocodone, and Percocet fueled a surge of overdose deaths starting in 1999. That year, 4,030 people died from prescription painkiller overdoses; in 2011, that number quadrupled to 16,917. In 2012, though, that number dropped 5%, to 16,007.

Overdose deaths from all prescription drugs, including antianxiety medications, steroids, and ADD treatments, fell 3%.

“It’s some really encouraging news after many years of really grim news,” says Michael Botticelli, acting director of the drug control policy office. Botticelli believes that the reduction shows that drug control policies, such as cracking down on pill mills, restricting prescriptions of opioid painkillers, monitoring patients for signs of addiction, and harsh state or federal punishments for drug abuse, have begun to work.

The number of states with prescription drug monitoring programs in 2006 was 20, or less than half the country; by this year, 48 states have prescription drug monitoring programs, which makes it difficult for prescription painkiller addicts to get prescriptions at multiple doctors’ offices.

Unfortunately, as opioid prescription painkillers have become more difficult to get, heroin addiction has surged – in 2011, 4,397 people died from heroin overdoses, and in 2012, that number was up to 5,927, a rise of 35%.

“My patients tell me that as prescription opioids become less available and more expensive, that heroin has rushed into that breach,” Mark Publicker, an addiction medicine specialist in Portland, Maine, and president of the Northern New England Society of Addiction Medicine, says. “It was as if somebody flipped a switch.”

Botticelli says, however, that fewer than 5% of people addicted to prescription painkillers make the switch to heroin. Although heroin is cheap and readily available in the United States, many of the prescription painkiller programs put in place by states and the DEA have prevented addiction, rather than stopping it.

“Overdoses from opioid narcotics are a serious problem across the country and we know opioid overdoses tend to be highest where opioids get the highest use,” says former CDC director Tom Frieden. He says the medications “can be an important tool for doctors to use … but they are not the answer every time someone has pain.”

Last year, a report from the South Carolina attorney general revealed that the state was 10th in the nation for rates of prescription drug abuse and prescription painkiller addiction, but there was no plan in place to fight the growing problem. In contrast, states like Kentucky and Florida, which put plans in place to stem the rising tide of prescription drug abuse, reported a 20% drop in the epidemic once the plans had been enacted.

The Strom Law Firm Protects Against Prescription Painkiller Abuse Charges

Being arrested for prescription painkiller addiction and abuse is something that can be devastating financially and emotionally, and can have long-lasting personal and professional consequences. We understand what you are going through, and we are here to help. We will investigate your case from every angle, determine whether an illegal search took place and seek to have your charges reduced or even dismissed. We offer free, confidential consultations to discuss the facts of your case, so call us today at 803.252.4800.

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