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Painkiller abuse causes more pain

Updated: June 4, 2012 11:44AM



If you have absorbed recent news about various drug-induced epidemics, there’s no way around the obvious — we are a drug-addled country and getting more so with every pill we swallow.

The latest research indicates that many Chicago suburbs are awash in prescription painkillers and the dependency that can follow. This comes shortly after regional health care leaders raised the alarm about the startling rise in heroin use among Chicago-area teens.

As fretful as you might be about heroin stalking kids, be even more alarmed about the prescription painkillers — principally oxycodone, sold as OxyContin, and hydrocodone, known better as Vicodin — that mimic heroin. They’ve become as ubiquitous as jelly beans through a well-orchestrated infrastructure of greedy drug makers and inattentive physicians and pharmacists, while state watchdogs seem asleep at the wheel.

There supposedly is an Illinois system to track how many painkillers are prescribed for a patient, but it doesn’t work because the prospective addict can cross into other states that pay even less attention than Illinois.

It’s clear that only a national tracking system for such drugs will work. There’s just too much cash to be made and too little effective control being exerted now to not have a coordinated effort at regulating these powerful drugs.

How big a problem is this? Very big. Prescription drugs kill twice as many people as cocaine and five times as many as heroin. Since 2000, addiction to these drugs has risen tenfold. And more alarming, the painkillers are coveted by the same customers for cheap heroin — teens and young adults.

Though doctors and druggists deserve some responsibility, the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 70 percent of users get their drugs illicitly from family or friends, with only 18 percent from physicians. Of course, someone keeps prescribing these drugs and selling them.

And consider this: About one in four teens will abuse prescription drugs before they graduate from high school. If that doesn’t scare you, nothing will.



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