Addiction to powerful prescription painkillers is on the rise both nationally and in the region, according to substance abuse experts.
Federal statistics suggest there is a national epidemic of addiction to such potent medications as Oxycontin, an opiate prescribed by doctors to those suffering both physical or emotional pain. Nearly 2 million Americans are under the grip of such painkillers — more than the number of people hooked on cocaine and heroin, officials said.
“These are medications being prescribed for legitimate reasons — at least initially — and we’re seeing more and more people getting addicted who normally wouldn’t become addicted, because the medications are so strong,” said Susan Dalesandro, director of the Otsego County Mental Health Services department.
“Some people end up mixing them with other things, and they become a very lethal combination,” Dalesandro added. “We have been seeing accidental overdoses because of this, and we’re seeing more (fatal) overdoses than suicides over the past couple of years.”
In the first six months of 2012, Otsego County recorded nine such fatal overdoes, versus a total of six suicides in that same period. In 2011, there were a total of 11 deaths as a result of drug and/or alcohol toxicity, versus a total of five deaths that were deemed to be self-inflicted, she said.
Dalesandro said the medical community has been attempting to combat the prescription drug scourge by keeping better track of the prescriptions that are issued, to prevent addicts from doctor shopping and loading up on more drugs than they should be able to access.
Prescription drug abuse is the fastest-growing drug problem in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The rise in unintentional drug overdose death rates nationwide has been driven by increased use of opioid analgesics, a class of powerful prescription drugs that has been implicated in more overdose deaths than heroin and cocaine combined, according to the CDC