Across America, The Grip of Prescription Painkillers Tightens

Tens of millions of Americans turn to powerful painkillers to ease their sufferings. But an analysis on the sales of two prescription drugs over a decade is particularly worrisome.

Check out this interactive map below from The Associated Press showing how sales of oxycodone and hydrocodone ballooned from 2000-’10. Click on individual states to see which areas had the biggest increases. The map is based on data from the Drug Enforcement Agency.

An accompanying report says U.S. pharmacies in 2010 dispensed the equivalent of 69 tons of pure oxycodone – the key ingredient in OxyContin, Percocet and Percodan – and 42 tons of pure hydrocodone – the key ingredient in Vicodin Norco and Lortab.

That’s enough to give every person in the U.S. 40 5-mg Percocets and 24 5-mg Vicodins, according to the AP.

Oxycodone sales jumped more than 500 percent in New York, Florida and Tennessee. NPR’s Greg Allen has written on the prescription drug abuse epidemic in Florida. He says addicts and traffickers in other states regularly make trips there on Interstate 75, which some people now call the “oxy express.”

As Scott Hensley pointed out in Shots last fall, some doctors “have called for a re-think of narcotics to treat chronic pain, citing a lack of evidence for that practice and serious problems with misuse.”

In an NPR-Thomson Reuters Health Poll late last year, half of the 3,000 respondents said they had been prescribed a narcotic painkiller at least once.

More than three-quarters said the drugs are linked to addiction, while more than one-third reported having used narcotic painkillers despite having concerns about their use.

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