Staggering New Painkiller Sales Figures

By McCarton Ackerman 04/05/12

In 2010, US pharmacies dispensed enough pure oxycodone to give everyone in the country 40 five-milligram Percocets each.

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It no longer comes as any surprise that prescription painkiller use is surging in the US, but new figures from the DEA are still staggering to read. In 2010, pharmacies nationwide received and dispensed 69 tons of pure oxycodone (the key ingredient in Oxycontin, Percocet and Percodan) and 42 tons of pure hydrocodone (the key ingredient in Vicodin, Norco and Lortab). That's enough to give 40 five-milligram Percocets and 24 five-milligram Vicodins to every single person in the US. An aging national population accounts for some of the increase—but far from all of it. Some regional figures are astonishing: oxycodone sales in Staten Island climbed 1,200% between 2000 and 2010, for example. Parts of Eastern California saw 500% increases during that time, while in most of Tennessee per capita oxycodone sales became five or six times higher. And in areas of New Mexico, hydrocodone sales are five times higher per capita and oxycodone sales 10 times what they were in 2000. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, opioid pain relievers such as oxycodone and hydrocodone were responsible for 14,800 deaths in 2008, and that number has continued to rise. "Prescription medications can provide enormous health and quality-of-life benefits to patients," Gil Kerlikowske, the US drug czar, told Congress in March. "However, we all now recognize that these drugs can be just as dangerous and deadly as illicit substances when misused or abused." Forty states currently have prescription drug monitoring systems aimed at tracking patients, but there's no monitoring at the federal level.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.