Prescriptions for opiate-based medications have surged nationwide, says the Kitsap Sun in Washington State. In 10 years, sales of Oxycodone rose from 4.4 million grams to 37 million grams nationwide, says the Drug Enforcement Administration. “The brain doesn’t know the difference between OxyContin and heroin,” said Randy Viers of Olalla Recovery Centers. Washington has been hit particularly hard. The state ranked third in the nation for the percentage of people – 6.2 percent – using the drugs for a non-medical reason in a 2004 federal study. DEA estimates 7 million people abused prescription opiates in the U.S. last year.
The proliferation of prescription opiates has filled emergency room and drug treatment facility beds with “script” addicts and created a black market for the drugs. The demand has sparked a rash of pharmacy burglaries and robberies targeting pills – a crime unheard of just a few years ago. “They’re not this under-the-overpass type of addicts,” said Steve Court, a chemical dependency counselor. “They’re walking alongside us in the grocery store.” New users are susceptible because prescription opiates are perceived as “clean,” whereas heroin and meth are “dirty,” said federal prosecutor Ron Friedman. “They come in a bottle, and in a nice little pill, no fuss no muss. Only they’re just as destructive, if not more so, than heroin and cocaine.” Federal and local law enforcement have ramped up efforts to rein in the underground supply of prescription opiates. Officials believe the key is educating the public to the dangers of opiates, and to dispose of pills when they no longer are needed.