In recent years painkiller use has increased dramatically in almost every part of the United States. In New York State, prescription painkiller sales went up by 519% from 2000 to 2010. Drugs like Oxycontin, Vicodin and Percocet have become commonly known brand names but were meant for short term relief of extreme pain. Those drugs also carry a high risk of addiction for the patient.
CNYCentral spoke to a woman in recovery from painkiller abuse. We are not using her real name but instead are calling her "Jane." She went on painkillers due to chronic back pain but soon saw her life spiral out of control as she became addicted to the pills that gave her relief.
"They make you unable to get rid of it or deal with it in any way - so you keep taking more," said Jane
Doctors say many patients will ask for specific painkiller prescriptions by name and if they can't get what they want, some patients will go to another doctor to get what they want.
At Upstate University Hospital's pharmacy, painkillers and other controlled substances are closely monitored and kept in a vault . The director of the pharmacy says the spike in painkiller use raises a lot of concerns. Steve Ciullo says he's especially worried about the possibility of patients having different doctors fill out prescriptions.
"We don't know if we have patients who are out thee doctor shopping or pharmacy shopping. Going to different doctors because they're addicted and and they want more drugs or going to different pharmacies," said Ciullo.
Pain specialist Dr. Donna-Ann Thomas from Upstate University Hospital says both doctors and patients will need to make changes to curb the spike in painkiller use. Thomas said doctors need to find non-addictive pain relief alternatives and patients need to understand the risks that come with painkillers.
"It could be a very precarious position between the primary care physician and the patient but I think that us as physicians need to start standing our ground when it comes to prescribing these medications. Give the patient expectations for when these medications are going to come off and stand your ground," said Thomas.
Jane says she became so dependent on painkillers that she was afraid to stop using them.
"My daughter said to me - you're out of control," said Jane. "I was scared to death of pain. Scared of it so it took me a long time to be able to come to somebody and say - I've got a problem with this."
Dr. James Follette said solutions have to take several factors into consideration. He recommends patients use exercise, therapy and other healthy living strategies along with non-narcotic pain medications when possible. Follette recommends that other doctors consider possibilities other than long term use of prescriptions that are designed for short term pain relief.
The distribution of hydrocodone is on the rise. Across the country, USA Today reports that pharmacies dispensed over 69 tons worth of oxycodone and hydrocodone in 2010, which is â??enough to give 40 5-mg Percocets and 24 5-mg Vicodins to every person in the United States.â??