When used properly, prescription painkillers provide significant relief for individuals who are suffering from chronic pain or recovering from an accident or surgery. Unfortunately, sometimes the use of painkillers can quickly lead to prescription drug abuse and addiction. The problem has gotten much worse in recent years, leading some to call it a prescription drug “epidemic”.

Opioid abuse is a serious issue, and one that can turn deadly very quickly. In the year 2011 alone, 1.4 million visits to the emergency room were related to prescription drug misuse. That’s more than a 100 percent increase since 2004. The spike in overdoses and misuse matches up with increases in the sales of these medications as well. This is not just coincidental.

Reasons for Opioid Abuse and Misuse

There are numerous reasons why prescription drug abuse has become such a problem in the United States. In the 1990s, physicians and hospitals were accused of failing to adequately treat pain in suffering patients. As a result, it became more commonplace for a doctor to prescribe prescription drug medications to help alleviate pain.

Unfortunately, this opening of the doors for painkillers has caused some people to become addicted. In the worst cases, individuals accidentally overdose on the pills and lose their lives. At the same time that it was becoming more of a common practice to prescribe these painkillers, the FDA also approved new versions of the medications that offered “extended release” options.

These forms of painkillers are much more likely to be abused. Some people are also genetically predisposed to addiction, meaning that even being prescribed these medications for a short period of time could lead to dependence.

All of These Factors Combined to Form a “Perfect Storm” That Is Now Considered an Opioid Abuse Epidemic.

With the focus being on doctors who were seen as not providing the proper level of medication for people suffering from pain, it became easier than ever to access these drugs legally.

Even though many people are using these drugs for too long or at too high of a dosage level, they are technically operating within a system that enables opioid abuse all too easily.

How Addicts Get Doctors to Prescribe the Pills

Although one physician might catch on to a patient who appears to have a dependence on the medication, most patients interested in getting the drugs figure out ways to get them from numerous doctors at a time. Without a registry keeping track of when painkillers were being prescribed, and at what level, individuals can and will travel hundreds of miles in search of their next prescription.

Doctors had little recourse for when they suspected someone was abusing the drugs, although it was still within their power to deny someone painkillers. However, since many addicts have figured out what to say and where to go, multiple doctor’s offices may be prescribing high levels of medication without realizing they are one link in a very long chain. “Pill mills”, too, popped up around the country, giving little or no medical care but writing large quantities of medications.

Developing a Dependence

Developing dependence on painkillers often leads individuals to use more of the pills each day, increasing their dosage. This increased dosage over time dramatically increases the risk of an accidental overdose.

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Many family members have unfortunately witnessed a victim of opioid abuse simply falling asleep and never waking up again. Opioid abuse has serious repercussions across the country, but it’s clear from current research that without some major intervention, it’s unlikely to subside as an issue.