Painkiller Overdoses Affecting More Women than Men

The United States consumes over 90% of the world’s supply of prescription painkillers. But Why? Does the U.S. account for over 90% of the pain in the world? The answers to why the U.S. is in the grips of a national pain killer addiction epidemic are multi-factoral and complex.

Overdose  deaths from prescription drug overdoses has surpassed deaths from illicit street drugs. New powerful painkillers are being put onto the market and the corporate healthcare  and pharmaceutical industry is making millions as a result.

Although media attention has focused a lot recently on the epidemic of prescription drug overdoses,  the problem only  continues to increase throughout the U.S. The use of prescription painkillers is on the rise and this is leading to more preventable deaths. Unfortunately, the problem is impacting women especially.

Between the years of 1999 and 2010, almost 48,000 women died as a result of painkiller overdoses. Those deaths have risen at a rate of 400 percent for women, while painkiller deaths for men have only risen by 265 percent. What this breaks down to, according to the CDC, is the tragic fact that 18 women are dying every day as a result of painkiller overdoses.

 Healthcare Providers Can Do More

Healthcare providers can certainly do more to put a stop to the problem by acknowledging it, following guidelines on prescribing painkillers, and conducting regular reviews of the patients under their care. Prescription drug monitoring programs already exist and can be critical for giving providers details about situations outside the norm that could warrant intervention.

Part of the problem stems from unscrupulous doctors prescribing drugs for reasons other than a legitimate medical problem. In addition, we have learned much about  the causes of  prescription drug abuse .  Addiction is a brain disease and it can rob the addicted person of the cognitive ability to make good choices. That is why it is even more important for health care providers to be vigilant.

Although the War on Drugs focused on other kinds of drugs in the past, the spotlight on prescription drugs is relatively recent.

Dangers and Side Effects

There are major dangers in using a drug for the wrong purpose, and many people may not be aware of these dangers. Many prescription drugs are known for having adverse effects for users. In an appropriate scenario, a physician would be watching over these side effects and providing treatment and insight to the individual. There are well known indicators to alert healthcare providers when prescription drugs are being misused. However, when there is no medical oversight,  the chances that an addicted patient will overdose or die increases greatly.

Physicians are not the only problem. When a person is self-medicating without the guidance of a doctor, he or she is more likely to make mistakes that could result in an overdose or death. Simply not understanding the risks and proper usage of such medications can really put a user at risk.

Addiction to Painkillers Happens Quickly

Drug dependence with painkillers has also been evidenced through research, showing a dangerous link between prescription drugs and overdoses.  Many of the painkillers on the market today are highly addictive. In some cases, the painkillers mimic the effects of heroin and other highly addictive drugs. In some instances, persons who have become addicted to painkillers have switched addictions and moved on to illegal drugs, such as heroin.

There are numerous steps that can be taken at the federal, state, provider, and individual level that can alleviate the negative impact of so many women overdosing on painkillers.

  • Stricter controls must  employed to make it harder to get these medications.
  • Physicians must  education  themselves about how to screen for addiction and misuse.
  • Physicians must stick to only prescribing painkillers for demonstrated medical need.
  • Patients need to be educated about the risk of addiction, overdose and death.  

Painkillers Have Their Place

Patients who are legitimately prescribed painkillers, and choose to take them properly for a certain amount of time may  benefit from them. It is very important to take them only as prescribed and to be completely honest with your doctor if you feel yourself beginning to crave the drug.

Make sure that if you have used painkillers in the past and have kept them in the home to instead find a safe way to dispose of them. This way, they won’t be stolen by an abuser or accidentally located by a child.

 In the course of my practice, I have seen far too many tragic cases. There seems to be a misperception that only bad people get addicted or die of drug overdoses, but nothing could be further from the truth. I have represented many wonderful people, whose lives were destroyed by addiction and I have litigated cases on behalf of  many fine families whose loved one accidentally overdosed and died. This problem affects everyone. PLEASE HELP US SPREAD THE WORD!


Walgreen’s Illegally Distributes Controlled Substances

Is Walgreen,s Pharmacy really “at the Corner of Happy and Healthy”, like their motto claims? Maybe not…


The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) caught Walgreen’s Pharmacy red-handed.  Allegations claim they were knowingly and  illegally distributing controlled substances to known abusers and drug dealers. The DEA found an “unprecedented” number of record-keeping and dispensing violations of the Controlled Substances Act.

Walgreen’s agreed to an $80 million settlement to put the matter to rest.  Part of the deal required Walgreen’s to publicly admit that it had failed to comply with its responsibilities as a DEA registrant. Although they claim they do all they can to stop this activity, there is evidence it is still occurring, even after the large sum of money they were required to pay. According to a recent blog article on, Walgreen’s is more concerned with making a dollar than the health of its customers.

How Does This Effect Me? 

I have written many times about the problem of prescription drug addiction in America. It is crucial to shut down the supply chains if this problem is ever going to be eliminated. Unlike illicit drugs,  prescription drug dealers aren’t standing on dimly lit street corners in the rough areas of town. To the contrary, much of the supply comes from doctors, pharmacies and clinics who are licensed to distribute  controlled substances. With this license, however, comes the responsibility of complying with the law. Unfortunately, many do not comply, and this effects all of us.

Controlled substances may only be prescribed and dispensed for a legitimate medical purpose. When this fundamental premise isn’t followed, illegal distribution and abuse emerge. Narcotics find their way into the hands of addicts and dealers who sell them illegally on the black market. Sadly, the prescription drug black market makes its way into schools and homes, and destroys lives and families. 

Kudos to the Drug Enforcement Agency for getting the attention of one national pharmaceutical chain. Let’s hope it sends a loud message to the others. We all must do our part, as they are, to stop this epidemic in America.


FDA Panel Considers Tightening Rules on Hydrocodone Prescriptions

 According to recent statistics, the United States consumes 99 percent of all Hydrocodone in the world, yet the United States is merely 4.5 percent of the world’s population.  In 2010, an estimated 131.2 million prescriptions were written for Hydrocodone, making it the most prescribed drug in the United States.  Hydrocodone is a highly addictive painkiller and has been blamed on overdoses and deaths.

Prescription Painkiller Addiction is an Epidemic in the United States
Abuse of prescription painkillers in the United States is an epidemic.  Reports of pharmacies being robbed for Hydrocodone and other strong narcotic painkillers are all too commonplace.  Now the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is asking for help from the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to tighten regulations and make it more difficult to get prescription drugs containing Hydrocodone.  
“If Hydrocodone has more restrictive manners tied to it, it could help reduce the abuse potential,” says Special Agent Robert Hill of the DEA Pharmaceutical Investigations Section.
FDA Advisory Panel Could Mandate Tighter Restrictions on Hydrocodone
In response, the FDA convened an advisory panel for a two-day meeting on Thursday, January 24, 2013.  The panel is to consider tighter regulations for the prescribing of drugs and other products that contain Hydrocodone.  One of the proposed regulations would limit prescriptions of pills and cough syrups containing Hydrocodone to a 90-day supply.  Currently, these products are available to be filled with five refills within six months.  The advisory panel will also consider moving Hydrocodone-combination products like Vicodin up from a Schedule III to a Schedule II drug, which is more highly regulated.  Drugs currently in Schedule II include OxyContin and pure Hydrocodone.
Advocates of tighter restrictions on Hydrocodone believe that moving Hydrocodone-combination drugs to a Schedule II classification will make the drugs less available.  A similar measure was attempted in 2012 with a proposed amendment to the Prescription Drug User Fee Act (PDUFA), but lobbyists for pharmaceutical companies fought against the amendment, and ultimately it was defeated.
Big Pharma Looks to Cash-in on Hydrocodone with New Drugs
Another FDA panel recently voted against approving Zohydro, an extended-release drug that contains pure Hydrocodone.  Manufactured by Zogenix Inc., the new painkiller is ten times more powerful than Vicodin and highly addictive.  Although the FDA panel found that the new drug met FDA standards for safety and efficacy, it voted against approval of the drug based on its high potential for addiction.  The FDA will consider the panel’s findings, but may still approve Zohydro in March when it comes up for consideration.
For more information about Hydrocodone and prescription drug addiction, read:

Big Pharma’s Marketing of Painkillers Launches Senate Probe

Accidental overdosing on prescription drugs now kills more people in some states than car accidents.  Now, the U.S. Senate Finance Committee is investigating the marketing practices of pharmaceutical companies that make highly addictive narcotic painkillers.

The Senate Finance Committee launched the investigation to help ensure consumers are not being misled into thinking that these opioid painkillers are completely safe. 

“Overdoses on narcotic painkillers have become epidemic, and it’s becoming clear that patients aren’t getting a full and clear picture of the risks posed by their medications,” said Senator Max Baucus, who along with Senator Charles E. Grassley has launched the investigation.

Non-Profits Promote Pain Drugs

Pain advocacy organizations have popped up in the past decade, including groups like the American Pain Foundation, which received nearly 90 percent of its funding in 2010 from the pharmaceutical and medical device industries.  These groups highlight the benefits of opioid painkillers and downplay the risks, which include addiction.

The American Pain Foundation has decided to dissolve amid the allegations that it has illegally marketed painkillers. However, the group has cited the decision to dissolve based on operational and financial problems.

The Senate investigation comes just months after Purdue Pharma (maker of the highly addictive Oxycontin) announced plans to release a painkiller 10 times stronger than Vicodin.  The painkiller contains pure hydrocodone, which doctors believe will lead to more accidental overdoses.

Three pharmaceutical companies are being investigated in the Senate probe, including Purdue Pharma, Endo Pharmaceuticals, and Johnson & Johnson.  Five different pain support groups are also being investigated, including the American Pain Foundation, the American Academy of Pain Medicine, the American Pain Society, the Wisconsin Pain & Policy Studies Group, and the Center for Practical Bioethics.

Even the Joint Commission, a nonprofit hospital accreditation group, is being investigated for its partnership with Purdue Pharma.  The group not only brought pain management to hospitals’ attention as a national priority in 2001, but also distributed to those hospitals pain education materials promoting Oxycontin.  The group already pled guilty in 2007 to criminal charges that it understated the risk of addiction with Oxycontin.

Experts Voice Concern about Painkiller Addiction

Narcotic painkillers are currently the most widely prescribed drugs in the United States, despite their classification as highly addictive substances akin to illegal drugs.

Sales of painkillers have risen nearly 300 percent since 1999, and in proportion, the number of deaths due to painkiller overdoses has also risen.  Prescription painkillers are now available even to high school students who have held “pill parties” in which they bring different medications they find around their homes, including painkillers, and take pills without knowing what those pills are.

Even newborns are being born addicted to painkillers.  The Journal of the American Medical Association recently released a report finding that newborns are being born with drug withdrawal at a rate five times that of levels in 2000.

Pain awareness groups have “helped usher in an epidemic that’s killed 100,000 people by promoting aggressive use of opioids.  What makes this especially disturbing is that despite overwhelming evidence that their effort created a public health crisis, they’re continuing to minimize the risk of addiction,” said Dr. Andrew Kolodny, chairman of psychiatry at Maimonides Medical Center in New York.

Since the 1990s, big pharma has marketed these painkillers to more groups of people.  Before, the pills were largely used to help cancer patients, but companies like Purdue Pharma have sold doctors and consumers on broader uses for the pills, including arthritis and back pain.  Senators Baucus and Grassley noted “There is growing evidence pharmaceutical companies that manufacture and market opioids may be responsible, at least in part, for this evidence by promoting misleading information.”

While these painkillers do have their uses in some patients, the overprescribing of these pills is clearly out of control.  Oftentimes, doctors prescribe the pills without fully explaining to the patient the risk of addiction and overdose.  Critics have said that many doctors need to be retrained on when it’s appropriate to prescribe narcotic painkillers.

I will continue to post updates about this and other pill mill news.  For the latest information on prescription painkillers and pill mills, subscribe to my blog.


Senator Warns FDA about New, Stronger Painkillers

New York Senator Charles Schumer is warning the FDA that approving a new painkiller containing pure hydrocodone could have disastrous consequences across the nation. Painkillers that contain hydrocodone currently on the market are known to be highly addictive and have caused fatal overdoses.

New York Senator Charles Schumer has seen the effects of prescription drug addiction in his state and has vowed to fight it.  He warns that a new painkiller promising to be 10 times stronger than Vicodin could lead to more violent and deadly drug store robberies.

In June 2011, New York resident David Laffer was charged with robbing a Long Island drug store of more than 10,000 highly addictive prescription painkillers and killing four people in the pharmacy.  He and his wife had been doctor shopping before the robbery in an effort to get prescription pain pills like hydrocodone, which is highly addictive.

Nationwide, more than 1,800 pharmacies have been robbed in the past three years alone.  Long Island alone has experienced a 125 percent increase drug store robberies.

“It’s tremendously concerning that at the same time policymakers and law enforcement professionals are waging a war on the growing prescription drug crisis, new super-drugs could well be on their way, flooding the market.  The FDA needs to grab the reins and slow down the stampede to introduce these powerful narcotics” Senator Schumer said.

The new painkillers, which contain pure hydrocodone, could come onto the market as early as 2013, with big pharmaceutical companies looking to cash in on the $10 billion prescription painkiller market.  At present, hydrocodone is classified as a strictly controlled Schedule II drug under the 1970 Controlled Substances Act. 

Products that contain hydrocodone and another painkiller like acetaminophen fall into Schedule III, which is less strictly controlled.  Some experts argue that because of this, highly addictive hydrocodone has been given to more patients, which has increased abuse of the drug and overdose rates in the United States.

A prescription painkiller that contains pure hydrocodone could lead to more accidental overdoses, leading to more emergency room visits.  Experts say that already thin hospital emergency room resources could become even more strained if this new drug is allowed on the market.  In 2008 alone, emergency room visits related to hydrocodone abuse totaled more than 86,000, up more than 400 percent from 2000 when an estimated 19,000 visits were recorded.

To learn more about prescription drug addiction, read my article “America’s Growing Addiction” at


The epidemic of prescription drug overdose deaths.

With the recent rash of celebrity overdose deaths, Americans are becoming increasingly aware of the prescription drug addiction epidemic which is ravaging this country and claiming the lives of her citizens.

According to the CDC,

The mortality rates from unintentional drug overdose (not including alcohol) have risen steadily since the early 1970s, and over the past ten years they have reached historic highs.

The CDC also added that drug overdose deaths are now 4 to 5 times higher than the death rates during the black tar heroin epidemic in the mid-1970s and more than twice what they were during the peak years of crack cocaine in the early 1990s. Currently, people in the 45-54 age group now die of drug overdoses more often than from traffic crashes.

The most common drugs found on autopsy in drug overdose deaths are called narcotics, usually prescription painkillers called opioids.  OxyContin , Vicodin  and  Lortab are examples of opioid painkillers. Methadone is also now widely used as a painkiller in addition to its use for treatment of addiction. Another drug commonly associated with drug overdose deaths is a group of drugs called sedatives like Xanax and Valium. Soma, a powerful muscle relaxer is often in the mix.

According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, more than 6 million Americans are  currently abusing prescription drugs—that is more than the number of Americans abusing cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens and inhalants combined. With more current users, we can expect the mortality rates from prescription drug overdose deaths to continue to rise.

The victims are not what many might perceive as a bum living under a bridge. These are our sons and daughters, parents, teachers and neighbors. It affects everyone from the high profile celebrity to the ordinary American.

A multi-pronged approach is needed to address this problem. But, recognition of the problem is a good place to start. It is unfortunate that it took several high profile cases to bring the problem into the public’s eye. But, now that we know, we cannot turn a blind eye. The time is now to begin a dialogue about how to best address this killer epidemic.