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A nation of addicts

The people charged with prescription fraud in and around Dr. Orrin Walker’s medical practice are innocent until proved guilty; we won’t convict them here. But you don’t need a judge and jury to determine that abuse of prescription painkillers is the No. 1 drug problem in the United States today.
And hydrocodone — the drug cited in the China Grove arrests — is the leading culprit.
So many people are hooked on hydrocodone and related opioids— through both legitimate and illegitimate means — that the pharmaceutical companies appear to be turning us into a nation of drug addicts. You have to wonder if the societal costs of such drugs now outweigh the medical benefits, and whether hydrocodone in particular should even be on the market.
Some disturbing facts:
• In 2009, for the first time in the U.S., drug overdose deaths outnumbered deaths due to motor vehicle crashes, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
• Also from the CDC: “In 2010 alone, opioid analgesics were involved in 16,651 deaths – far exceeding deaths from any other drug or drug class, licit or illicit.”
• Involvement of opioid analgesics in overdoses went from 30 percent in 1999 to nearly 60 percent in 2010.
You can’t believe everything you read on the Internet, but the following excerpt from a report on Medscape, part of WebMD Health Professional Network, raises an alarm that demands further examination:
“Hydrocodone combination products are among the most commonly prescribed opioid analgesics in the United States, but they’re also the most widely abused, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
“Zogenix has come under great fire since approval of its single-entity hydrocodone, which was approved even though the FDA’s own advisory panel recommended against approval in an 11 to 2 vote. Since then, call for reversal of this approval has come from 29 state attorneys general and a coalition of groups calling itself ‘FedUp!: A Coalition to End the Opioid Epidemic.’ Bills have been introduced in both the House and the Senate to overturn approval of this drug.
“A ban on prescribing the drug in the state of Massachusetts in March as part of a strategy to protect against abuse and diversion has now twice been overturned, with the most recent decision by the U.S. District Court in Massachusetts upholding its prior decision that imposing regulations to restrict access to the drug violates constitutional law.”
Prescription fraud is a crime. Where it is committed, perpetrators should be punished. But when it comes to hydrocodone abuse, prosecution alone is a feeble finger in a rapidly deteriorating dike. We need to stop the flood of hydrocodone or brace ourselves for worsening consequences.

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