WARNING: Some of these topics covered in this story could be triggers to opioid addicts.
RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — In just the first half of 2016 more than 500 people died in Virginia from a prescription painkiller or heroin overdose.
8News is digging into what is causing the epidemic.
Oxycontin, a powerful painkiller, hit the market two decades ago with bold promises. One of these was that Oxycontin could provide 12 hours of relief from chronic pain.
But 8News has discovered that some of those promises may have been false and deceptive.
8News spoke with a recovering opioid abuser named Nate Dobler.
“I was 20 and I was in a bad car accident,” Dobler said.
Eventually, he ended up taking oxycontin, the drug that said it lasted 12 hours.Dobler was rushed to the hospital with several broken bones and, after numerous surgeries, he was prescribed opioids to ease his pain.
“For me, it was probably six hours or so and it would wear off and the pain would come back,” Dobler said.
If he waited the full 12 hours to take another pill, Dobler said he would become physically ill.
Dobler’s story is similar to what Dr. James Thompson, founder of Clean Life Medical in Henrico County, was hearing from many of his patients.
“I’ve run out early, I need to increase my dose, I have already increased my dose,” Thompson said. “The medicine just doesn’t seem to be working anymore.”
A recent L.A. Times investigation found internal documents showing the drug maker Purdue Pharmaceuticals had been warned soon after the drug hit the market that it was wearing off in eight hours. Despite this, the drugmaker continued its 12-hour marketing campaign.
Wanting to be pain-free, patients started taking the pills, which are a chemical cousin of heroin, more frequently, exposing them to addiction.”The widespread opioid abuse and addiction is partly the consequence of that campaign,” Thompson said.
“We are taught that it was wrong to under-treat pain,” Thompson said. “I think that we have to accept that we are somewhat responsible for this.”
In 2007 Purdue pleaded guilty to a felony charge of illegally misbranding Oxycontin, but the company still says research supports the 12-hour dosing label.
Some lawmakers are now calling for further investigation.
- The McShin Foundation
- The Richmond Behavioral Authority
- The Virginia Center for Addiction Medicine
- CDC: Injury Prevention & Control
- Half of young people who used heroin got started by abusing prescription opioids.
- One in fifteen individuals who misuse prescription opioid painkillers will try heroin within 10 years.
- The number of opioid prescriptions has nearly tripled over the last 25 years, and the United States now accounts for nearly 100 percent of the world’s hydrocodone prescriptions and 81 percent for oxycodone.
- The number of Americans abusing heroin nearly doubled from 2007 to 2012, with nearly 700,000 now abusing heroin.
In Virginia, abuse and overdose deaths continue to rise:
- Prescription opioid overdose deaths have risen 44 percent between 2007 and 2015, from 399 deaths to 576.
- Heroin overdose deaths have risen more than 600 percent between 2010 and 2015, from 48 to 342.
- Fentanyl deaths have risen 367 percent from 2007 to 2015, from 48 to 224.
- More than 500 people went to a Virginia emergency room from a heroin overdose in the first four months of 2016, a 250% increase over 2015.
- This is a developing story. Stay with 8News online and on air for the latest updates.
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