Oklahoma painkiller usage spikes

Americans are taking more and more pain pills than ever before. The amounts of five major painkillers purchased at retail pharmacies rose 90 percent in the period between 1997-2005 and oxycodone, the chemical used in Oxycontin, is responsible for most of the increase.  Its use jumped nearly six fold and more than 200,000 pounds of painkillers were purchased in 2005 alone.  That's enough to give more than 300 milligrams to every person in the country.

Hydrocodone, morphine and oxycodone are the most common types of painkillers prescribed to Oklahomans who are either using painkillers, or are abusing them on a daily basis.  What's worse, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration says painkiller usage jumped 145 percent from 1997 to 2005 putting Oklahoma at number eight among 50 other states.

Who's to blame for the increase in painkiller use?  Is it an aging population with chronic pain; unprecedented marketing campaigns by pharmaceutical companies; or addicts out to get high?  7News met with a local health professional to discover his thoughts on the results of this study.

Dr. Sanjiv Kaul says that anytime there's an increase in pain medication, everyone should be concerned.  But, what we must remember is that more people are seeking help as well as discussing their pain more openly.  "People are being treated more for pain than ever before," he said.  "I think maybe what you're seeing an increase in use its use for chronic pain."

Kaul says chronic pain is very personal and a lot of adults may take a painkiller to function.  Sometimes curing an ailment is not as simple as undergoing surgery and a Doctor will prescribe medication for pain management.  Doctors who once advised that pain is part of the healing process have reversed course in the last 20 years.

"As the aging population exists here in Oklahoma, they will need more medication.  But, as far as addiction goes, if the patient is truly in pain, they're not going to become addicted," says Kaul.  "Our goal is to get long term pain relief with the fewest number of medications.  People tend to be in pain and they want a pill to fix it so we try to show them other alternative ways to treat pain."

"Physical therapy, heat and ice, ultra sound, electro simulations, acupuncture, phylacteries, these are all things that don't involve medications," said Kaul.

But Dr. Kaul says that, perhaps, there is a little bit of good news to come out of this study.  "We are treating more and more pain," he said.  "So, one of the reasons for increasing and writing more pain medications might be the fact that we are able to recognize pain more; it's more accurately being diagnosed and treated."