Study shows painkiller sales on the rise

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 23, 2007

A recent study of federal drug prescription data shows retail sales of five leading painkillers nearly doubled over the last eight years, reflecting a surge in use by patients nationwide, however local medical professionals say the rise has not occurred locally thus far.

More than 200,000 pounds of codeine, morphine, oxycodone, hydrocodone and meperidine were purchased at retail stores during 2005, the most recent year represented in the data. That is enough to give more than 300 milligrams of painkillers to every person in the country.

Raymond Boone, pharmacist at Food World in Demopolis, said locally he has not seen a significant increase in the amount of controlled substances such as these five painkillers being prescribed.

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As far as restrictions on narcotics, Boone also said insurance companies are the restricting force.

According to a recent Alabama law, Boone said, each pharmacy is required to ask for a social security number to correlate with each prescription, which is then put into a computer that can monitor how many narcotics a person purchases.

The amount of five major painkillers sold at retail establishments rose 90 percent between 1997 and 2005, according to Drug Enforcement Administration figures.

The analysis reveals that oxycodone usage has migrating out of Appalachia to areas such as Columbus, Ohio, and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and significant numbers of codeine users are living in many suburban neighborhoods around the country.

Oxycodone, the chemical used in OxyContin, is responsible for most of the increase. Oxycodone use jumped nearly six-fold between 1997 and 2005. The drug gained notoriety as &8220;hillbilly heroin,&8221; often bought and sold illegally in Appalachia. But its highest rates of sale now occur in places such as suburban St. Louis and Fort Lauderdale.

Boone said occasionally the pharmacy encounters patients who skip from doctor to doctor attempting to get more painkillers than are probably necessary, but it is not as a big of a problem as in other areas.

More restrictions may have resulted from an increased effort by the Drug Enforcement Agency.

In the last four years, The DEA cites 108 prosecutions of physicians; 83 pleaded guilty or no contest, while 16 others were convicted by juries. Eight cases are pending, and one physician is being sought as a fugitive.

In congressional testimony, the agency&8217;s deputy assistant administrator, Joseph T. Rannazzisi, estimated fewer than 1 percent of the nation&8217;s physicians &8212; under 9,000 &8212;illegally provide prescription drugs to patients. He told lawmakers it is far more common for people to illegally obtain prescription drugs from friends and family members.

A 2004 government study estimated between 2 million and 3 million doses of codeine, hydrocodone and oxycodone are stolen annually from pharmacies, distributors and drug manufacturers.

John Charles, director of medical affairs at the Grand Strand Regional Medical Center in Myrtle Beach, S.C., practices pain management. A few years ago, Charles said, he took a drastic step to reduce his potential legal risks: He stopped prescribing painkillers.

The decision gave him peace of mind, but he does not expect less of a need for painkillers or physicians who prescribe them.

Linde McAdams, a Certified Registered Nurse Practitioner at Physicians Family Healthcare in Demopolis, said there are other ways of pain management not involving narcotics.

When those methods don&8217;t work, physicians step in and have the option of prescribing painkillers.

Associated Press writer Frank Bass contributed to this report.