Painkiller sales soar around US, fuel addiction
By CHRIS HAWLEY
NEW YORK (AP) — Sales of the nation’s two most popular prescription painkillers have exploded in new parts of the country, an Associated Press analysis shows,worrying experts who say the push to relieve patients’ suffering is spawning an addiction epidemic.
From New York’s Staten Island to Santa Fe, N.M., 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.
Meanwhile, the distribution of hydrocodone, the key ingredient in Vicodin, Norco and Lortab, is rising in Appalachia, the original epicenter of the painkiller epidemic, as well as in the Midwest.
The increases have coincided with a wave of overdose deaths, pharmacy robberies and other problems in New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Florida and other states. Opioid pain relievers, the category that includes oxycodone and hydrocodone, caused 14,800 overdose deaths in 2008 alone, and the death toll is rising, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.
Nationwide, pharmacies received and ultimately dispensed 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. The DEA data records shipments from distributors to pharmacies, hospitals, practitioners and teaching institutions. The drugs are eventually dispensed and sold to patients, but the DEA does not keep track of how much individual patients receive.
The increase is partly due to the aging U.S. population with pain issues and a greater willingness by doctors to treat pain, said Gregory Bunt, medical director at New York’s Daytop Village chain of drug treatment clinics.