As prescription painkiller use rises, so does opiate addiction


Painkillers made from opiates are known to have addictive qualities and were once prescribed only to patients on their deathbeds. But today that category of drugs is used to treat many types of chronic pain. A joint investigation by the St. Paul Pioneer Press and Duluth News Tribune finds Minnesota doctors wrote 72 percent more prescriptions for narcotic painkillers last year than they did just six years earlier.

Drug experts say those painkillers are a gateway to other opiates, especially heroin.

In presenting part one of their series, each newspaper highlighted someone who is going through treatment after getting hooked on painkillers such as OxyContin or Vicodin. The News Tribune profiled a father of three from Esko who says there was nothing he would not steal while in the throes of his addiction.

The Pioneer Press introduced us to a 21-year-old whose addiction caused her to drop out of college and drain her bank account.

As doctors prescribe more opiate-based painkillers, pharmaceutical companies make more of them. The New York Times reported this fall that some pharmacies are suspected by the Drug Enforcement Administration of fueling the street trade in painkillers. The DEA is cracking down on distributors who deliver to those pharmacies.

The website WebMD has a page that looks at prescription painkillers and some of the factors related to addiction.

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