<em>Patt Morrison</em> is known for its innovative discussions of local politics and culture, as well as its presentation of the effects of national and world news on Southern California.
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Xanax, OxyContin, and Vicodin overdoses at record highs. Is prescription drug abuse a health epidemic?

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If you’re using Xanax, OxyContin, or Vicodin as a coping mechanism, you aren’t alone.
Health professionals have noticed a dramatic uptick in the number of people using and addicted to prescription drugs in the United States and are using words like “epidemic” to characterize the problem.

According to the LA Times analysis of government data, drugs deaths now outnumber auto related deaths. Deaths due to overdoses of painkillers and anti-anxiety medication tripled between 2000 and 2008.

Another startling fact, these drugs now cause more deaths than heroin and cocaine combined. One warning public health experts want to drill home is that just because a prescription is written by a doctor and gets filled at the pharmacy doesn’t mean it is safe.

One case and point is a relatively new painkiller called Fentanyl. It’s 100 times stronger than morphine.

In Hollywood, the painkiller OxyContin (known on the street as OC, O and hillbilly heroin) is becoming one of the most abused drugs in town. Michael Jackson was addicted, Courtney Love overdosed in 2003 and Heath Ledger was taking the drug before his death.

The scary news is that many health professionals don’t know how to stem the tide of prescription drug deaths. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy this year introduced a few initiatives to try and tackle the problem including offering voluntary courses to train physicians about the risks associated with prescription drug use.


In Los Angeles recently, 4 alleged “prescription mills” were raided and shut down for illegally dealing addictive painkillers. Can more be done? Is the new war on drugs taking place in a plastic bottle with a child proof cap?


Rick Rawson, assistant director of UCLA’s Integrated Substance Abuse programs

Steve Opferman, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Sgt. and head of a county task force on prescription drug-related crimes