Killing More Than Pain

Opioid Pain Killer Epidemic

Percocet, Vicodin, Oxycontin, Codine all opioid painkillers, all legal prescription drugs, all narcotics, all cousins of heroin. In 2013, the last year stats are available, 32 people in South Dakota died from painkiller overdoses.

Why has this problem grown so fast? According to drug counselors it is because the drugs are easy to get and highly addictive. Counselors say most doctors probably don’t even realize that a person can become physically dependent on the pills in just 14 days.

President Obama recently attended the National Prescription Drug Abuse Summit.
The fact that there is such a summit, speaks to the seriousness of the problem. President Obama calls the abuse of opioid painkillers “an epidemic,” even asking congress for a billion dollars to fund better treatment programs for those hooked on pain killers.

“The most important thing we can do is to reduce demand for drugs, said and the only way that we reduce the demand is if we’re providing treatment,” said Obama.

The president also recruited singer songwriter Macklemore, who says he would probably be dead if he hadn’t kicked his painkiller addiction

When it comes to opioids there are all sorts of scary stats that clue us in on how big the problem really is. For instance, Prescription drugs are responsible for more overdose deaths than cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine combined. Today it is predicted that 46 people will die from opioid painkiller overdoses in this country. Last year doctors wrote 256 million prescriptions for opioid painkillers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that’s enough for every adult in the country to have a full bottle of pills.
     
Matt Walz of the Keystone Treatment Center in Sioux Falls is on the front lines and says they’ve seen the problem growing fast.

“We’ve noticed over the past few years that we’ve had more of an uptick in opioid prescribed medication patients than we have in the past 40 years,” said Walz.

Opioid pain killers are in the same family as heroin. Walz says they were originally developed for end of life situations. They were never meant to treat chronic pain.  

“We know that 50 percent of patients don’t take their prescriptions as prescribed. 50 percent do take them as prescribed and 50 percent do not take medications as prescribed. 25 percent of those under use them and 25 percent over use them or abuse them,” said Walz.
 
Where do those who are addicted get their drugs? Walz says a person who is addicted can become very bold and creative. The staff members at hospital emergency rooms actually have a term for them; they call them “Drug Seekers.” Because the frequently show up complaining of pain. Some addicts “doctor shop,” they go to so many different doctors they keep a supply going to feed their habit. Drug registries are created to stop this type of abuse, but Doctors have to use them. And things become more complicated for doctors who treat those who suffer from chronic pain.     

“It is kind of like unraveling a ball of spaghetti, said Walz. You’ve got the need for pain management and helping people not have chronic pain and using the best tools that are available from a medical standpoint to balancing that with issues of addiction and dependency and abuse.”

Assistant Program Director at Keystone, Phyllis Bauerle knows just how far addiction can push a person, and lead them to do something they could not imagine doing before.     
Addicted to opioids, Phyllis says she filled out phony prescriptions.
     
“I wrote my own scripts, I took the script pad, we’re taking 30 years ago, so the doctors would leave the script pads out I would take a script pad and I would write the script and take it to the pharmacy,” said Bauerle.

Bauerle finally got the help she needed and has been clean for 30 years. She and Walz say raising awareness and educating people on the dangers of opioids becomes more important as addiction rates rise. Their newest concern? Many heroin abusers seeking help say they their addiction started with opioids.