U.S. Epidemic of Prescription Pain Medicine Abuse may be Starting to Reverse Course

The decline suggests that recent laws and prescribing guidelines aimed at preventing painkiller abuse are working to some degree. But researchers also found a disturbing trend: Heroin abuse and overdoses are on the rise, and that may be one reason prescription-drug abuse is down. U.S. sales of narcotic pain medicines rose 300 percent between 1999 and 2008, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The increase had good intentions behind it, noted Dr. Richard Dart, the lead researcher on the new study. Unfortunately, he said, it was accompanied by a sharp rise in painkiller abuse and “diversion” — meaning the drugs increasingly got into the hands of people with no legitimate medical need. Deaths from prescription-drug overdoses (mostly pain medicines) tripled. In 2010, the CDC says, more than 12 million Americans abused a prescription narcotic, and more than 16,000 died of an overdose — in what the agency termed an epidemic.