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August 11th, 2010
11:58 AM ET

Detectives, doctors try to stymie painkiller abuse

Editor's Note: You have seen the headlines from stars like Heath Ledger to Michael Jackson, but America's pill problem is growing in places far away from the spotlight. A new study says prescription drug overdoses were up by two thirds, from 1999 to 2006. Today in our original series "Addicted," Carol Costello shows us it can be deadly, not only for the addict, but for the doctor who comes between the addict and his fix.

By Brian Rokus, CNN

Louisville, Kentucky (CNN) – Detective Steve Watts is locking up another accused pain pill addict. But he's seen this suspect before.

She's back in handcuffs for the second time in less than a week. The charge this time, like it was just four days ago, is fraudulently obtaining prescription medication.

For Watts and the other detectives of the Louisville Police Department Prescription Drug Diversion Squad, it will be one of 500 to 600 arrests they make each year.

Even with arrests nearly every day, "We're just scratching the surface," according to Watts. The number of investigations the unit initiates is up 148 percent compared with a year ago.

It can be surprisingly easy to get prescription narcotics that are highly addictive, and they're highly profitable on the street. FULL STORY

Filed under: Addicted... • Drugs
soundoff (26 Responses)
  1. Leon

    It seem all of you know a lot about the drugs, their names and where to get them, quit blaming the doctors, or the clinics, or the drug companies, you all starting to sound like a bunch of wanna be vietnam vets, there is plenty of them, you refused to get yourself off the drugs so blame your self, go get a job, do something for yourself or for someone, no one wants to hear you crying because you cant get a perscription, when you all overdose, say hi to my son, Nick, he is dead, accidental drug overdose, so the coroner says.

    August 12, 2010 at 2:56 pm |
  2. BRAD

    I have been taking Morphine and Hydrocodone for over three years daily for my pain. I do not like the drugs, but cannot function without them due to my pain in my back from my military career. I am addicted but would so love to get off them if there was a cure for my pain. Believe me... it gets old having to take the pills every day. I dont get high from them because I have been on them for so long. I would love to get rid of them.

    August 12, 2010 at 2:51 pm |
  3. karen, RN

    There are many inaccuracies in this article.
    One is the statement that nurses can call in narcotic prescriptions.
    This is flat out wrong
    Schedule 2 narcotics the ones most abused, Vicodan, Percocet, Oxycodone, Oxycontin etc, CANNOT be called in to a pharmacy. There must be a written prescription brought in. Secondly there are NO refills allowed on these medications. A new prescription must be written for each one. Most of these abused drugs are obtained on the black market (on the street.) or from drug pushing people working at non-legitimate pain centers as have proliferated in S. Florida. Not from legitimate prescriptions.
    It might serve the author of this article to verify his facts before putting them out there.
    CCRN for 30 years.

    August 12, 2010 at 11:32 am |
  4. Scott

    Its Big business. The pharmaceutical industry makes way to much money on mas producing pain medication, while knowing that a large portion of these pills hit the unregulated streets. What needs to be donw is simple. All prescirptions need to be done through the internet. The database will store your social security number and the patient will give the doctor the access code. The doctor will then be able to login to the site, and see which ailments you are currently being treated for. The doctor can then write a prescription through the database, eliminating the outdated process of prescription pads. This process would give doctors confidence that they arent over prescribing and mixing deadly prescriptions that another doctor has prescribed you. (I.E Michael Jackson, Anna Nicole Smith). This will also eliminate painkillers getting into the hands of theifs who steal prescription pads, or create their own. The only people who would not gain something positive from this process, is the pharmaceutical industry who will grossly underperfrom on their future sales projections

    August 12, 2010 at 11:25 am |
  5. Ron Blanton

    in an ideal world no one would ever get hurt.but in reality it happens,i broke my neck & back,if anyone could spend a day with my spine in them,i feel they would have a different perspective on pain meds. they make them for a reason,to treat pain.yes there is a problem with people who don't need them choosing to use them for all the wrong reasons.when the public finally makes marijuana legal,and it will be,maybe those popping pills for the wrong reasons will have a much safer way to achieve what their looking for. when the government tells doctors what they can & cannot prescribe,this has so many negative notations that it makes you wonder,whats next,fat people,salt,soda pop,sugar,act. in a few words. if everyone gets their way no one will get their way. everybody hates something. ! i sure hope no one gets hurt,because you will definitely be under medicated.

    August 12, 2010 at 10:42 am |
  6. RodRoderick

    Legalize marijuana and the rate of pain med abusers will go down. What people don't realize is that marijuana wasn't made illegal based on medical or scientific rational. It was based on Racism, Greed, and Personal Agenda of the man tasked with creating the Federal Narcotics Division.

    August 12, 2010 at 7:09 am |
  7. Julie

    They have a pill now- Suboxone, that blocks the horrific symptoms of opiate detox- but the doctors prescribing that are getting rich , too. Suboxone, with out insurance, costs more than pain pills on the black market ($9.00 per pill). Not to mention the $145.00 a week for a 30 second doctor visit to get your next scrip. . $35 a week for a required drug test and $75.00 a week for the required "group therapy". Without insurance it is almost impossible to get off the pain pills. Just tough it out and kick cold turkey you might be thinking- that's like telling someone who needs a dentist to just man up and pull out their teeth with some pliers.

    August 12, 2010 at 5:45 am |
  8. Jon

    It is well documented, and any legitimate pain medicine specialist will attest to, the majority of people using narcotics do so appropriately and under medical supervision. It is also well documented in the medical literature that such patients rarely become "addicted" to medications used in this manner. Keep in mind that "addiction" refers to maladaptive behavior such as draining your IRA to buy oxycontin on the street while "tolerance" is a well known, predictable pharmacological effect that occurs in almost everyone who takes narcotics for any length of time. Tolerance is treated by increasing the drug dosage or switching to another agent. A patient may be tolerant of a given drug and dosage but does not display maladaptive behaviors and is not addicted to the drug. This is a crucial concept and one that many physicians and certainly the DEA do not understand. The medical use of powerful opiates, like oxycontin, has been caught up in the "war on drugs" and made many physicians afraid to use medically indicated medications. The country has a serious lack of pain medicine specialists and such fears affecting prescribing by non-specialists only make the situation worse for patients who require aggressive pain management. It wasn't that long ago that MDs wouldn't medicate terminal cancer patients because they might get addicted before they died. We have mostly gotten past that period due to educational efforts on the part of medical schools and residency programs. As a physician and a chronic pain patient I am lucky to be treated by a board certified pain specialist with a multi-faceted approach that doesn't depend only on narcotics. Unfortunately, many chronic pain patients, for the reasons mentioned, aren't that lucky.

    August 11, 2010 at 10:10 pm |
  9. Geoff

    Sure we can teach kids that drugs are bad as soon as they learn English, but the minute they try a painkiller and realize they aren't instantly homeless and it feels... awesome, then all those scare tactics fly out the window.

    Like any temptation in life, the key is moderation.

    August 11, 2010 at 6:09 pm |
  10. Daniel Barreiros

    I have chronic neck, upper and lower back pain from a car accident I was in 15 yrs. ago.I take many pain killers and they usuallt don't do enough except ruin my stomach.I need for the only real medicine to be legalized MARIJUANA.

    August 11, 2010 at 5:44 pm |
  11. scott

    Hi i live in Canada we are the most overly prescribed Country in the world
    This is all about Money$$$$ and not much else.
    I was seeing a Doctor at a pain clinic for a year or so he worked 4 ten hour day;s He told me that he was retired and did not want too work that many hours so he took a job at a Methadone clinic for one day 6 hour day...
    And he makes more Money then working 40 hours at a pain clinic...sweet!! wonder if there's Money in it..
    Another example i moved, saw another guy at a Methadone Clinic he was about 40 and he worked 2 days a week and sure looked well off..
    People at the end of the day????? M Jackson's Dr made money and so did Anna Nicole's
    Methadone clinic's don't want you clean your there bread and butter...Hello!!

    August 11, 2010 at 5:17 pm |
  12. Mike

    I will never support the notion of government or police having influence over any of my personal decisions. Once again we seem to be whipping up mass hysteria over what is in the end strictly a medical issue between me and my doctor. I just hope that when the time comes and you or loved ones are in extreme debilitating pain you will be able to receive something that actually helps as opposed to the constant BS the government and media keeps feeding you.

    August 11, 2010 at 4:57 pm |
  13. mike

    CONTROL CONTROL CONTROL... This is now a country of dictatorship. Before to much longer it will be a crime to pass gas at certain times . Looks like it aint free America any more ??????????

    April 8, 2010 at 2:44 pm |
  14. mike

    The fact of the matter is it is time to step up to the high community and tell them enough is enough . Stop trying to control everything .Alchool is the number one cause of drug related crime and death but yet it is legal. Drugs controlled and priscibed by a doctor should be left alone. Further more they should legalize marijauna in every state across the country for all uses.It would cute down on addictive behavor and less want to use other substances.Inaddition it would crate a nation wide profit and relief to the us economic crissis. Also it would cut down crime rate by nearly 40% across the entire us.

    April 8, 2010 at 2:36 pm |
  15. Randy Latham

    On July 1, 2009 Ga enacted its first Doctor Shopping law HB 273.While this is a step in the right direction we still need accountability on the Doctors who prescribe Narcotics.This can be done by simply having the patient bring in their medication bottles and having the Doctor physically check to ensure they are not abusing or selling these drugs.And a drug test every 6 months to check the levels of medication in the body.
    This would certainly be another step in the right direction toward curbing the Prescription abuse problem.

    April 8, 2010 at 10:37 am |
  16. don elliott

    I really dont know why this comes as a surprise to so many people in this country. This is a country of drug users. Have a runny nose, here is a pill fot it, get a scratch somewhere, here is a pill for it.. Its all about money just like everything else in this country. The drug companies are not interested in finding cures, they are only interested in making some drug that will make you think you are feeling better while at the same time getting you hooked so they can then sell more drugs thats supposedly will get you unhooked, but then get you hooked on the new one, and this goes on and on. The truth is drugs and other chemicals are responsible for a vast majority of the ailments suffered by Americans, these ailments does not exist anywhere else in the world, and the drug companies are well aware of this, but to admit would mean financial dissaster for them. What is a couple lives when they can make billions of dollars in profits.

    April 8, 2010 at 7:30 am |
  17. brett morrsion

    i live in huntington wv, we have guys that come form detroit to bring oxi's mostly 80 mg, the we have
    alot of people that travel to florida monthly or more to get hooked up with a dr. down there. there has been 2 pain clinics radided in our area in the past week or two. we r at war with afhganistan becuz our country is hooked on opiates and where does the best opiate on the palnet come from well i think u get the picture we r over there for that so we can continue to make these opiate based drugs..... thats wha i think cuz we have to have em or the people that need em will be sick and the addicts will be really sick if they would just stop. think about it ???? thats what we r there 4 read between the lines it doesnt take a genius study your history alittle. we gave the afghans weapons to defeat the soviets cuz we wanted that land for ever ago and now we want it again dont you c..... <<<<<opiate addict now on suboxane the opiate addicts savior

    April 8, 2010 at 3:07 am |
  18. Haraald Bengtson

    Don't forget some of us need painkillers for chronic pain that makes life unpleasant. What's your quality of life if you're in constant pain? Some conditions are not cureable.

    April 8, 2010 at 12:48 am |
  19. Dr C Smith

    When are all the states going get their act in gear and start a central database that we as physicians can access? Addicts doctor shop and there is no way to know, no way to ever find out..

    Fewer and fewer doctors will start to prescribe these meds as these patients become more irrtating, more frequent, and more abusive.

    Check- reason #30 I shouldnt have gone into primary care.

    April 7, 2010 at 11:28 pm |
  20. john nordstrom

    My wife and myself were both hooked on prescription drugs the doctor,was giving both of us unreal doses of them. On a day in Nov.2008 he was arrested for giving patients way too many pills. When we could not find a doctor that would give us any where what we needed my wife had seizures and ended up in the hospital in a coma, where she almost died. After 12 days in the hospital she finally pulled through,but it seems that is what it takes to get help for pill addiction. It just seems that some doctors just give and give you pills and then just leave you hanging,i mean its very hard to get help and costs alot of money also. When you are on the pills you really dont think you have a problem,because a doctor is giving you the pills. You trust the doctor is doing the right thing and that you will be just fine until it is too late. No one really knows what you go through until you have been there,I mean it really ruins your life. The money you can spend is crazy when you cant get pills from a doctor. I guess what i am trying to say is there has to be an easier way for people to get help!!! because it about killed both of us and it would have if the doctor did not get arrested. Plus sticking people in jail without help just makes them worse

    April 7, 2010 at 11:18 pm |
  21. Terry W. Brookman

    I came out of a hospital in 1973 and was eating four Preordains at a time three times a day six month later, I was also doing three blue Valium a day plus a 750 mil Placidyl to get to sleep. I had five different doctors prescribing for me, could not figure out why I would not heal. One day I just flushed all of the pills, I was walking OK two months later but it was hell. I am not against pain killers, far from it but beating the system and self medication kills.

    April 7, 2010 at 11:10 pm |
  22. Kurt

    Typo fix: Second sentence: "Treat them the sam way we treat alcoholics:...

    April 7, 2010 at 10:08 pm |
  23. Kurt

    Alcohol is as addictive as prescription pain killers, but it doesn't take a prescription to get it. Threat the the same was we treat alcoholics; shut them up for about 30 days, handle the withdrawal with some medications and then turn them lose to find their own way to sobriety. Only about 2 – 3% will make it and the others will die. That's just the way it is.

    The problem is that doctors can make about $25K per year just writing prescriptions and there are many who do it. CA tried the "triplicate prescription" form for classified drugs and it didn't work. People will get the stuff on the black market from crooked wholesalers, truck hijackings, pharmacy wholesaler break-ins, and illegal importation just as they do with crack Cocaine.

    The only way to stop drug usage is to begin talking to kids about it as soon as they start school in Kindergarted and the first grade. Talk to them about peer pressure and how they will be subject to it's subtle lure and how to resist it – even if it means shedding all or most of their friends. I'm an alcoholic with 25 years of sobriety. My son is now 20 years old with 20 years of sobriety.

    April 7, 2010 at 10:05 pm |
  24. Brent

    And just what role do the pharmeceutical companies play in all this. What kind of "kick back" do Doctors get for prescribing a specific pill. You talk profitable business without responsibility. Doctors are encouraged to peddle specific drugs and when they do they are rewarded. I know.. .it sucks. And now its the addicts fault and they get arrested because they are addicted to a drug prescribed by a physician. Seems to me, the maker, the pusher and the user share responsibility. Go arrest Pfizer...please

    April 7, 2010 at 3:50 pm |
  25. Liz Brown

    Thanks for sharing this addiction story about how doctors are trying to stop prescription drug abuse. It was fascinating to hear how some doctors have stopped giving pain killer prescriptions completely, and then sad to hear that another doctor was shot because he refused a patient a prescription. Journey Healing Centers is also trying to help people understand the warning signs, health dangers and sobriety solutions before it's too late. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to call their free 24 hour addiction hotline: 1-866-744-5119

    April 7, 2010 at 3:19 pm |
  26. Shawn

    I happen to have chronic regional pain syndrome type II (a very painful nerve disorder) and while I understand the problems with people being addicted to prescription narcotics, some of us need the pain pills but yet have a hard time getting them because the doctors are too worried about going to jail because the DEA is scrutinizing every narcotic prescription that the doctor writes to their patients. This has to stop. There has to be a middle ground that will allow me the medical treatment that I need and that isn't hindered by the government because of a bunch of people that happen to be addicted to narcotic pain pills. Did you know that these people just go from one doctor to the next from town to town so they can get the pills that they want? If you regulate it the problem is that it will further hinder the people that need the pain relief from receiving any.

    There is always going to be people who will do anything to get high and if you make it where it is impossible for them to get prescriptions narcotics then you are probably making it hard for me to get the pain pills that I need as well. Besides if you stop giving prescriptions for narcotic pills to these addicts, they will just turn to the black market and get them or just start using an illegal drug instead. Some people just have an addictive personality and they become addicted to just about everything including alcohol (which by the way kills more people than prescription narcotics ever has).

    The government has to stop making it more difficult for the doctor to do his job and write prescriptions for pain pills to people that actually need it. There are physical evaluations that can be done to determine someones pain. There are also strength tests that help determine someones pain level. Doctors need to be better taught on how to perform these type of physicals.

    April 7, 2010 at 12:08 pm |