Killing Pain is the New Cocaine

America’s drug problem has shifted to legal substances: pain killers.  The addictive pills are being smuggled into the United States from Mexico, where drug wars have led to increased violence.  The United States is now trying to cultivate a plan to reduce demand for pain killers by educating those in law enforcement and building up the institutions — especially courts and prosecutors’ offices — that would lead to long-term stability in Mexico and elsewhere.

The New York Times writes,

“Studies show that prescription painkillers, and stimulants to a lesser extent, are the nation’s biggest drug problem. The same survey that identified 1.5 million cocaine users in 2010 found 7 million users of ‘psychotherapeutics.’ Of the 36,450 overdose deaths in the United States in 2008, 20,044 involved a prescription drug, more than all illicit drugs combined.”

Cocaine use is declining because prescription painkillers are arguably easier and safer to access. Are doctors over-prescribing painkillers?  Should there be more education in the medical field about diagnosis and treatment? Who is to blame for the sudden demand spike?

For more information, see: The New York Times


  1. This is an interesting issue, which has many facets. One extremely important thing that this switch in demand form cocaine to prescription painkillers shows us is that demand is one of the driving factors behind increased drug use in the United States, not necessarily the supply. As a result, perhaps, the United States will begin to focus more on policies that will curb the demand of painkillers rather than solely implementing supply-side enforcement strategies. Next, it must be determined how to cut the demand of these prescription drugs. This speaks to a much larger issue in the United States. There are many causes for an increase in societal use of prescription medications such as painkillers. One problem could be the fact that, today, Americans believe that if they have any problem, it can be cured by a pill (and we are bombarded with daily information reinforcing this mindset). Some doctors may also be quick to break out the prescription pad in order to help patients. However, many people take these drugs without knowing how serious and how addicting they can be, which can lead to excessive use, and in turn, addiction. So, without oversimplifying the problem too much, in order to substantially curb the demand for prescription painkillers, it would seem that many aspects of our society would have to change: from doctors’ practices to knowledge regarding prescription medication.

  2. Currently, there is a big push to create guidelines for doctors cornerning their use of prescribing high dosage painkillers. As the trend has become more popular for doctors to treat people’s pain issues with painkillers (unlike previously where powerful painkillers such as Oxycontin were only used for cancer patients and end of life care), now the time has come where some people are calling for a reform to stop the over prescribing of these painkillers.

    While some doctors have simply been told to “cool-it” with the prescription pad, doctors in other states such as Washington have no choice. Last year, new requirements were imposed on doctors, whereby they are required to refer patients taking high dosages of opioids for evaluation by a pain specialist if their underlying condition does not improve. Many doctors opposed this measure, leading many of them stop treating pain patients.

    While efforts like this may in effect reduce the number of prescription pills floating around for illegal use, is this the only way to combat the drug problem? Will people who actually need the prescriptions not be able to get them, and actually suffer the most? At this point it is hard to tell, as we cannot know the effect that this will have on the illegal drug market as of yet.

  3. This prescription medication smuggling problem is, unfortunately, an inevitable link in the pain medicine chain. For drug rings, like those originating in Mexico, the operation begins when smugglers dispense large quantities of these painkillers to loosely regulated pharmacies in Mexico. Then, the pharmacies sell the painkillers at an inflated price to Americans, who will hide the pills under clothing or in their vehicle compartments before crossing back over into the United States. In the United States, we can designate a portion of the increased use of pain medications to an aging population. Elderly patients can see true benefits to prescription medications, such an increase in their quality of life while battling certain chronic or incurable ailments. On the other hand, doctors are also much more willing to prescribe medications for pain management in general. Once a patient fosters a substantial relationship with their general or treating physician, or finds a “script-pad friendly” doctor to write out prescriptions, patients can get access to medications that are quite addictive and dangerous if abused. Studies show that the greatest problem with pain medications lies in the Appalachia region, where painkillers soothe the effects of poverty, and in affluent suburbs, where wealth can buy pain relief rather easily. Unfortunately, the addictiveness of prescription medications is not only confined to those holding the prescriptions, but also to younger individuals raiding their parents’ (and their friends’ parents’) medicine cabinets to feel the painkilling effects.

  4. “Addiction is far more than Craving” , the key to avoiding addiction is the assistance of your family, and of course the assistance of a medical team, and with regular checkups to maintain your reassess the need for this drugs. Thank you for this informative article by the way, and also for those responses, I’ve learned a lot.

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