Pill Mill Nation: Report cites use of pain meds

By Joan Hennessy
Pill Mill Nation: Report cites use of pain meds
OK, so life is painful. But how many of our fellow citizens are taking prescription painkillers to deal with it? The answer, unfortunately, is far more than you would think.

     As of 2012, health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for opioid painkillers, “enough for every American adult to have a bottle of pills,” the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported in an analysis last month.
     Opioid painkillers were once made from the opium poppy, according to the American Cancer Society. Today they are manufactured by drug companies.
     The Food and Drug Administration describes opioid painkillers as "powerful medications that can help manage pain when prescribed for the right condition and when used properly." When used improperly, they can result in serious harm and death. Indeed, 46 people die each day from an overdose of prescription painkillers, according to the CDC.
     Most of our pill-popping fellow citizens are in the South. (See map here.) But that’s not the whole story:
  • Four out of the top five high-prescribing states are in the South. The top prescribing state is Alabama, where doctors wrote 143 painkilling prescriptions for every 100 people in 2012. West Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky were close behind. The fifth state in the top five is Oklahoma.
  • Other Southern states also had high percentages of prescriptions, including Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina.
  • Hawaii had the lowest number of painkiller prescriptions – 52 per 100 people. Other low-prescribing states include New Jersey, New York, Minnesota and California.
  • While the South dominated the list of the highest prescribing states, Michigan, Indiana and Ohio also had high-prescription rates. And the Northeast had “the most prescriptions per person for long-acting and high-dose painkillers,” the report said. It singled out two states specifically – Maine and New Hampshire.

       That’s the basic picture. The report gets more disturbing when it describes what might be causing this pain-pill addiction. According to the CDC:

  • Health care providers in various regions don’t agree about when pain medication should be prescribed.
  • States report problems with “pill mills” -- for-profit, high-volume pain clinics where doctors prescribe painkillers to people who don't need them.
  • Some patients use painkillers nonmedically (for the high). They may also sell the painkillers or get them from multiple health care providers simultaneously.


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