Illinois Battles Prescription Pain-Pill Epidemic

State records show an average of eight people in Illinois die from prescription drug overdoses, including pain pills, every week

Whether it’s overprescribing, doctor shopping or raiding medicine cabinets, more people are getting hooked on prescription painkillers across the country and a leading safety group said Illinois is failing to meet responsible opioid prescribing standards.

Opioids have high addictive potential and doses may be increased over time to address chronic pain conditions. Pain pill addicts may transition to other drugs, like heroin, according to medical professionals and safety experts.

State records show an average of eight people in Illinois die from prescription drug overdoses, including pain pills, every week. Of the 418 drug overdose deaths involving prescription drugs among Illinois residents in 2012, 81% involved opioid pain relievers.

Felicia Micelli of suburban Medinah said her son, Louie, became addicted to pain pills following a sports injury. She said Louie’s opioid addiction led to heroin usage. But after rehabbing and staying clean for several months, Louie relapsed and died from an overdose in 2012.

“I still wait for his phone call and I still wait for his presence to walk through that door,” Micelli said.

Micelli started the LTM Heroin Awareness & Support Foundation to honor her son’s memory and educate others about the dangers of addiction.

“The only way that I can see that would really impact this problem is education before people start an addiction,” Micelli said.

The National Safety Council said Illinois’ laws must be updated to improve prescription drug monitoring. In fact, the state-wide Prescription Monitoring System used by medical professionals to monitor doctor shopping is only voluntary.

“We need to make sure that we’re addressing these prescription painkillers and preventing people from getting addicted to them in the first place to keep them from moving to heroin,” said Debbie Hersman, president of the National Safety Council.

Nick Gore is a recovering pain pill addict who speaks openly about his former addiction.

“I started manipulating all the doctors that I was seeing and seeing them more than often, more regularly, exaggerating pains,” Gore said.

Gore said he now speaks to doctors and the public about preventing addiction. He also spends much of his time with his organization, Sack Lunch Sunday, which provides meals to the homeless.

The Illinois State Medical Society (ISMS) argues the state has the lowest rate of oxycodone prescribing in the country. Illinois had a per capita use of only .05, ranking 50th in the United States.

However, Illinois physicians suggest taking a pro-active approach to limit overprescribing. The ISMS is working with state lawmakers to address the misuse and abuse of powerful opioid prescription medications and will attempt to strengthen the state’s Prescription Monitoring System, provide new educational opportunities for prescribers and increase access to naloxone, a medication used to counteract opioid and heroin overdose.

The ISMS said physicians, other prescribers, pharmacies and patients all have a stake in supporting safe prescribing practices.

“We don’t want people to have to guess whether or not this patient has gone elsewhere and has done doctor shopping in order to try to get drugs that they’re not going to use for the appropriate purpose,” said ISMS president Dr. William McDade.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports nearly 2 million people in the United States are currently addicted to opioid pain relievers and that there have been year-over-year increases in prescription drug overdoses for the past 11 years.

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