By Emily Tiry, Staff Editor
A new Associated Press analysis reports that sales of prescription painkillers are rapidly increasing in new areas. Traditionally, sales of these painkillers have been highest in affluent suburbs and in Appalachia, where there is a high prevalence of chronic pain from coal mining and other manual labor. Over the past decade, however, increased sales have started to spread to new areas. Between 2000 and 2010, sales of oxycodone and hydrocodone increased over 500 percent in New York, Delaware, Tennessee, and Florida.
This rapid increase is being driven by a combination of the aging of the U.S. population, doctors’ greater willingness to treat pain with these medications, and addiction. Part of the problem, especially with regard to addiction, stems from a lack of effective monitoring systems for controlled substances. Forty states now have monitoring systems that track individual patient usage, but most do not link to one another. Buyers can easily cross state borders to fill prescriptions if their own state begins strengthening their monitoring systems, a problem Tennessee is currently facing.
Painkillers such as oxycodone and hydrocodone cause over 12,000 deaths per year—more than heroin and cocaine combined. However, painkillers can also provide a meaningful increase in the quality of life for those who suffer from chronic pain. As prescription painkiller abuse becomes a growing problem, policymakers need to develop strategies that reduce the harm these drugs can cause while also preserving the benefits they provide.