Prescription Painkiller Use at Record High for Americans

 From ABC New

Prescription Painkiller Use at Record High for Americans

PHOTO: Vicodin pills spilling on to the table.
 
Vicodin use has grown rapidly in America. Today it is the most popular drug in the country. Workbook Stock/Getty Images
 
By JIM AVILA (@JeffreyKofman) and MICHAEL MURRAY
April 20, 2011
 
It is unclear if Americans are suffering from more pain than ever, but they are definitely getting more prescriptions for it. The use of Vicodin, the most popular pain relief drug in the country, has grown dramatically from 112 million doses prescribed in 2006, to 131 million in the U.S. today, according to a national survey done by the consulting firm IMS Health.

Experts say most of those prescriptions are unnecessary. The United States makes up only 4.6 percent of the world’s population, but consumes 80 percent of its opioids — and 99 percent of the world’s hydrocodone, the opiate that is in Vicodin.

“Vicodin is the most prescribed opioid mainly because it’s been incorrectly scheduled as a class III rather than a II,” says Andrew Kolodny, Chair of Psychiatry at Maimonides Medical Center in New York. “Many states have prescribing regulations linked to DEA scheduling. But it is no less abusable or addictive than Oxycodone or heroin.”

Who is prescribing all that Vicodin? More than 600,000 doctors, from surgeons to podiatrists, are licensed by the Durg Enforcement Agency to prescribe the drug. At the top of the list of pain relief prescribers are primary care doctors, followed by internists and then dentists. According to many critics, doctors often prescribe Vicodin because it is not as tightly regulated as other narcotic pain relievers are, although it is just as dangerous.

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