The Journal Sentinel is reporting that prescriptions for narcotic painkillers like oxycodone and OxyContin are falling and one expert believes that this may signify the trend of increased prescription drug abuse as “turning a corner.” Unfortunately, the Sentinel report doesn’t look at what’s happening to those who are addicted to the powerful medications—are they simply quitting or are they turning to other means?
In 2012, the number of opioid prescriptions in the United States was 241 million. This marked a slight drop from the prior year, when it was 243 million, and the first time since 2006 an increase wasn’t seen. Since 1999, the country has seen such prescriptions multiplied four times.
Along with the trend of increased opioid prescriptions came the increase of drug overdoses and prescription drug crimes. These powerful pain pills are highly addictive and when people couldn’t get them legitimately through their physician, they would turn to other means. Out of this demand, the illegal prescription drug trade boomed over the past several years.
So what could this single-year reduction in prescriptions mean? Some say it could indicate the problem has peaked and is now on the downturn.
“I think we are turning a corner,” said an associated professor of epidemiology and medicine at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health G. Caleb Alexander. “This may herald further changes to come.”
Alexander’s assumption could be overly optimistic, however. A single-year drop also occurred from 2005 to 2006 and then it once again continued to climb.
While addiction certainly plays a role in the growing number of prescriptions being doled out, there is also a suspected more sinister problem at play. The Journal-Sentinel and MedPage Today looked into the trend of pain pill prescribing and found the increase “was linked to pharmaceutical industry funding of nonprofit groups and prominent doctors that advocated for more liberalized use of the drugs for treatment of non-cancer pain.”
In other words, doctors who pushed the pills were possibly getting kick-backs for their efforts, directly from the pill-makers.
As a result, the amount of drugs being given to a single patient rose with the rising number of prescriptions. The average prescription sixe went from 923 mgs of morphine in 2000 to 1,566 mgs in 2010, for instance. Similarly, the average Vicodin prescription grew from 170 mgs to 288 mgs during that same time.
When pharmaceutical giants are funding the influx of drugs and the criminal justice industry is serving to do nothing more than lock users up without treatment, a single year drop in prescriptions can’t be taken too seriously. Such a trend will need to be sustained over a period of several years before we can be certain that any “corners” have been turned.
If you are accused of a prescription drug crime or any drug crime at all, there is help available. You may be eligible to receive treatment for your problem rather than jail time. Contact our office today to discuss how we may be able to help.