TYLER (KYTX) - People are buying painkillers now more than ever before. That's according to a new study by the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the increase in pain medication sales has experts worried.
The increase has coincided with a wave of overdose deaths, pharmacy robberies and other problems.
According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, in 2010, doctors prescribed enough painkillers to give 40 5-mg Percocets and 24 5-mg Vicodins to every person in the U.S.
Painkillers may be prescribed to you by your doctor, but experts say they can be just as addictive and deadly as many illegal drugs. Tylerite Sharon Brown knows that first hand.
"I've had several friends who have become addicted to them so it happens very fast," Brown says.
The centers for disease control and prevention say tens of thousands of people overdose each year in the U-S ... And the numbers are growing.
Doctor Luis Haro oversees the emergency departments in the Trinity Mother Frances health system. He sees dozens of people each day, affected by prescription drugs - mainly painkillers.
Haro says, "15 percent of the patients will develop an addiction to it, a dependence to it, within two weeks of being on them."
The new DEA study shows those addictions are driving the spike in painkiller sales.
Users are even going what's called "doctor shopping" to keep the prescriptions coming. If one doctor won't prescribe what they want, they'll go to someone who will.
"People have pain, they get on the medications, they get a little bit better, they start abusing it, subsequently they need more, and if they don't have it, they have worse pain than they had before," Haro says.
Experts say the increase in sales is partly due to the aging population with pain issues, and a greater willingness by doctors to treat pain.
"It's amazing," Brown says, "You get a whole thing of Hydrocodone and all you need is some Tylenol."
So how do you stop the problem from getting worse?
Brown says it' about awareness. "I think a lot of people don't even think about it. They just haven't thought about it as a problem."
With overdoses and addictions at an all time high, experts say it's not just a problem, but an epidemic.
Experts also say the sales are increasing in many areas of the country where there are few places to treat people who get hooked. That just adds to their worry. The study shows painkiller sales are rising the most in Appalachia and the Midwest.
Dr. Haro says prescription meds aren't always the answer and that there are other ways to deal with pain. Those options include physical therapy, some types of injections, and procedures from pain specialists provide other ways to relieve pain, and help avoid addiction.