Pills next to a penny for scale
Abuse of prescription drugs such as painkiller oxycodone is increasing. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

In the past decade, there has been a dramatic increase in the abuse of oxycodone, a type of painkiller. Oxycodone, and the brand-name formula of the painkiller called OxyContin, is responsible for more deaths from overdose than any other drug in the United States.

Painkiller abuse more common than almost any other drug use

Despite the billions of dollars spent on the federal government’s “War on Drugs” to combat drug use and addiction, more legal drugs are being used for recreational purposes or being obtained illegally every year. The abuse of oxycodone, a powerful prescription painkiller, has become a national epidemic, according to the Christian Science Monitor. In 2007, 11,000 people died from oxycodone overdose, which is more than methamphetamine, heroin and cocaine put together. It is estimated that between 1997 and 2005, abuse of oxycodone increased six times, according the KXnet.com, the CBS affiliate in the Bismarck, N.D. area. The proprietary brand of oxycodone manufactured by Purdue Pharmaceuticals, Oxycontin, is particularly popular.

Doctors susceptible to corruption

Though many doctors have to tread carefully to avoid incurring investigation by the Drug Enforcement Agency, some physicians are induced to prescribing painkillers liberally. “Pill mills” are so-called pain clinics set up by doctors in order to issue a high volume of prescriptions, including painkillers. The legality of such centers varies between states. Some physicians aren’t above going beyond the bounds of the law. Dr. Henry Blady in West Palm Beach, Fla., was recently convicted of attempted trafficking of prescription drugs, according to the Palm Beach Post. Dr. Blady wrote and filled prescriptions for patients that were dead. He filled prescriptions for 11,580 pills in a year, most of which were painkillers. A drug ring was recently discovered in which dozens of “straw buyers” would go to the pill mill clinics in Florida, get prescriptions for OxyContin and hand them over to an Ohio man named Donnie Winfrey, according to TCPalm News. Winfrey would then sell the pills in Ohio.

Second most common type of drug abuse

Prescription drug abuse is second only to marijuana when it comes to the illicit use of controlled substances. The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that as of 2009, 5.3 million people abuse prescription painkillers every year. In comparison, 605,000 used heroin and 4.8 million used cocaine of any sort, including crack cocaine. One in 12 high school seniors reported off-label use of a painkiller such as oxycodone or hydrocodone. Prescription drugs are a billion-dollar-per-year business to organized crime, according to CNN. One pill of OxyContin can fetch as much as $80.

Sources

Christian Science Monitor: http://bit.ly/mjuI6B

KXnet: http://www.kxnet.com/custom404.asp?404;http://www.kxnet.com/News/154611.asp

Palm Beach Post: http://bit.ly/kGaQ7G

TC Palm News: http://www.tcpalm.com/news/2011/may/31/dozens-arrested-locally-in-ohio-in-alleged-drug/

CNN: http://money.cnn.com/2011/06/01/news/economy/prescription_drug_abuse/index.htm?hpt=he_c2

National Institute on Drug Abuse: http://www.drugabuse.gov/drugpages/

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