“National statistics on the number of babies who go through withdrawal are not available, and states with the worst problems have only begun to collect data. Scattered reports show the number of addicted newborns has doubled, tripled or more over the past decade. In Florida, the epicenter of the illicit prescription drug trade, the number of babies with withdrawal syndrome soared from 354 in 2006 to 1,374 in 2010, according to the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration.”
Oregon’s rate of use of opiates without a prescription is the second highest in the U.S. after Oklahoma. A recent federal study suggests that Oregon doctors’ greater willingness to prescribe opioid pain relievers may partly explain the state’s exceptionally high rate of abuse. It found that rates of use without a prescription ranged from lows of 3.6 percent in Nebraska and Iowa, to highs of 6.8 percent in Oregon and 8.1 percent in Oklahoma. Legal sales ranged from less than 4 kilograms per 10,000 people in Illinois to more than 11 kilograms in Oregon, Tennessee, Nevada and Florida.
States where doctors prescribed the largest amounts of opioid drugs tended to have the highest rates of abuse and overdose deaths. Oregon, despite its high rate of abuse, defied the pattern for overdose deaths. The state’s rate of 11.7 opioid overdose deaths per 100,000 people is not significantly different from the national average. Researchers collected data from a national registry of death records, a national survey on drug use, and lawful sales of prescription opioids tracked by the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Several factors have contributed to the rise in opioid prescribing – including a justifiable desire to improve the lives of people struggling with severe pain problems, as explained in this 2009 news report by The Oregonian:
“After World War II, intense federal scrutiny made doctors wary of prescribing the narcotics. Probably too afraid: In the 1990s, a general sense grew that doctors didn’t pay enough attention to relieving their patients’ pain, which prevented many people from working or living normal lives. A pain-management movement encouraged wider opioid use.
“‘Five to 10 years ago, the thought was that the problem was really a lack of access to these drugs,’ said Dr. Brett Stacey of the Comprehensive Pain Center at Oregon Health & Science University.
“Meanwhile, new kinds of pain drugs were being made, such as OxyContin, a pill so powerful and so often abused it won the nickname ‘hillbilly heroin.’ Drug companies making these new pills encouraged the pain-management movement, fueling sales, Ballantyne said. The global production of oxycodone, the main drug in OxyContin, shot from 11.5 tons in 1998 to 75.2 tons in 2007, according to the International Narcotics Control Board. Four-fifths of those pills were consumed in the United States.”
Public health authorities say that medical caregivers have helped fuel the overuse and outright abuse of opioids by prescribing them too freely and with too little monitoring of patients. With great public demand for opioids, criminal drug dealers are getting in on the profits. Earlier this year, a former Multnomah County pharmacy technician was accused of tampering with drug records and fraudulently stealing up to 23,000 oxycodone pills from several county-run pharmacies. In March, fifteen men and women were charged in Portland’s U.S. District Court for their roles in the distribution of oxycodone since 2008. The indictment accused them of taking part in an interstate drug-trafficking conspiracy that laundered proceeds of more than $1.7 million through bank accounts in Oregon, Florida, Nevada and New York.