In 2010, doctors prescribed enough painkillers to medicate every American adult around the clock for one month, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As sales of these drugs increase, so do the number of prescription drug-related deaths and people being admitted for substance abuse treatment. The bipartisan Congressional Caucus on Prescription Drug Abuse, which includes 10th District U.S. Rep. Robert Dold, has been studying the issue, and last week made recommendations to the Food and Drug Administration on how to control the epidemic.
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The recommendations include labeling changes on prescription pain killers like OxyContin and Vicodin to help make patients aware of the risks and encourage doctors to think twice before prescribing highly addictive narcotics for "moderate" pain such as toothaches or sore knees.
Patients seeking treatment for cancer pain or other diseases that cause "severe" pain would not be affected, the caucus members said in their letter to the FDA.
A future FDA hearing on the matter is expected, a spokeswoman for Dold's office said.
Dold told his fellow caucus members that the Chicago area is the epicenter of this problem, and the prescription drug abuse happening here in the suburbs is leading to other problems, including an increase in heroin use.
Dold said Wednesday that minimizing the number of prescriptions being written for these drugs, and discouraging doctors from prescribing them for moderate pain, will help the situation.
"While it's still going to be subjective ... we want to minimize the prescribing of dangerous and addictive drugs to someone who might not necessarily need them," Dold said. "The amount of overdoses we've had, especially in the Chicago area, is leading the country, and that's of concern to me."