For years, Alabama has led the nation in the numbers of prescriptions for opioid pain medications and as a result, the state has a significant problem with abuse and addiction with these pain pills.
One of the biggest concerns is when these medications fall into the wrong hands, those of our children, and the problem is getting worse.
From 1999 through 2010, the sales of prescription opioids quadrupled in the United States, with Alabama leading the way. Not surprisingly, the numbers of children getting their hands on these drugs also shot up.
"The opioid epidemic has grown exponentially." says Dr. Julie Gaither of the Yale School of Medicine. "It really began in the mid-1990's when physicians were encouraged to do a better job of treating chronic pain. In 2014, there were approximately 19,000 deaths that were attributed to opioid medications."
A recent study reveals some 13,000 children and teenagers were hospitalized for opioid poisoning during that same time frame. Many of them right here in Alabama.
That study, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, showed the highest number of hospitalizations for opioid poisoning was among teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19.
However, the greatest increase in hospitalizations occurred among children in the 1-to-4 year old age bracket.
"Why have we used more pain medication than any state in the union?" asks Dr. Jerry Harrison, president-elect of the Alabama Medical Association. "Do our patients inherently hurt more than other places? Or is it because we have had some people who might have been too liberal with the amount of pain medication that they used?"
Harrison says the Alabama Medical Association is taking a leading role in educating doctors and patients alike of the need to reduce the state's dependence on prescription opioids.
The goal is to reduce the number of people who become addicted to pain medications, and the incidence of the pills falling into the wrong hands.