THE problem of prescription drug abuse continues to grow and become more evident every day. When it's the top story on Page 1 of The Wall Street Journal, as happened one day last week, you know it's big.
Solving this crisis — and it really is a crisis, in Oklahoma and around the country — is a story in search of an ending.
The Journal wrote about federal Drug Enforcement Agency agents searching six Walgreen pharmacies and a distribution center in Florida. The feds had previously cracked down on two CVS pharmacies in Florida, all part of what the newspaper said is a push by the DEA to keep prescription pain pills from getting to the black market.
The DEA estimates 7 million Americans use prescription drugs for nonmedical reasons — more than four times the number of people addicted to cocaine. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says in the past decade, the number of annual deaths from painkillers has quadrupled to roughly 15,000.
On the same day as the Journal story, The Associated Press reported on the prescription drug problem. It found that the equivalent of 42 tons of pure hydrocodone (Vicodin, Lortab, etc.) and 69 tons of pure oxycodone (Percocet, OxyContin) were dispensed by pharmacies in 2010 — enough to give every American 40 5-milligram Percocets and 25 5-mg Vicodins.
Sales of these drugs have skyrocketed in new parts of the country in the past decade, AP found. In 2000, sales of oxycodone were most prevalent in coal-mining areas of West Virginia and eastern Kentucky; by the end of the decade, strongest sales “had overtaken most of Tennessee and Kentucky, stretching as far north as Columbus, Ohio, and as far south as Macon, Ga.”
Oxycodone sales also increased dramatically in and around New York City during the decade. In the borough of Staten Island, sales grew by 1,200 percent. In addition, “the American Southwest has emerged as another hot spot,” AP said.