Prescription Drug Abuse Forms a New Drug Epidemic

Drug addiction and drug crimes have long been viewed as crimes of the underclass, tied to grimy, decaying urban locations. Drug dealers and drug pushers on street corners lined with boarded up stores.

Unfortunately, over the past few years, the some aspects of this picture have been changing, and increasingly the addicts live on tree-lined streets with well-manicured lawns. The drugs for these addicts are no longer street drugs heroin or cocaine, but prescription drugs, such as OxyContin and Percodan.

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) website's notes, "Prescription drugs are the second-most abused category of drugs after marijuana." The Centers for Disease Control calls it "an epidemic."

Many of the drugs are obtained from friends, relatives, or the internet. Worryingly, fatal opiate overdoses, a category once associated primarily with heroin use, are now increasingly caused by prescription opioid analgesics.

Thefts and the Market Prescription Painkillers

The marketplace for these drugs is fueling various crime waves, as organized crime elements engineer large-scale robberies of warehouses, like one in March 2010 of an Eli Lilly warehouse in Connecticut. That robbery involved cutting a hole in the roof, and resulted in the theft of a semi-truck load of drugs valued at $75 million dollars.

In Massachusetts, much small-scale break-ins have been correlated to prescription drug abuse. Police report that areas, such as Cape Cod, have been hit with as much as a 200 percent increase in house and car break-ins, as addicts steal valuables to pay for their habit, or get the contents of the medicine cabinet.

Safer? No

Some mistakenly believe they drugs are safer than street drugs, but the statistics quickly give lie to that assumption. According to the Centers for Disease Control, overdoses of opioid painkillers resulted in 14,800 deaths in 2008.

The greater use of the drugs is also associated with the aging of the U.S. population and a story by the Associated Press points to large increases in shipments of oxycodone and hydrocodone, enough to supply every person in the U.S. with 40 Percocet pills and 24 Vicodin pills in 2010.

Once primarily limited to coal-mining areas of West Virginia and eastern Kentucky ten years ago, oxycodone has sales have spread across the east from Ohio to Georgia. The AP notes on Staten Island, sales have increased 1200 percent.

Prescriptions of the opioid painkillers have tripled since the early 90s and the increased availability makes them more attractive to users, which drives both the legal and illegal procurements.