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America in Pain
Tracking the painkiller epidemic.
Painkiller abuse has been described as the worst drug epidemic in American history. Here's a by-the-numbers look at America's deadly addiction.

Produced by Adam Wenger
1 in 6 Americans experience chronic pain
That's roughly 53 MILLION people.
Painkiller Prescriptions by State
Painkiller prescriptions by state.
While prescription rates for painkillers vary widely by state, most painkillers are prescribed in the south.
In 2011, 1/3 of the state's population filled an opioid presciption.
In 2012, Alabama was the highest painkiller prescibing state, with 143 prescriptions per 100 people.
By contrast, California had just 57 painkiller prescriptions per 100 people.
Where the Drugs Come From
While the vast majority of drugs involved in painkiller overdoses come from prescriptions initially, they are often obtained free from a friend or a relative. Very few come from theft.
50%- Obtained free from a friend or relative
17.3%- Prescribed by one doctor
11.4%- Bought from friend or relative
4.8%- Took from a friend or relative w/o asking
4.4%- Got from a drug dealer or stranger
7.1%- Other source
Overdose & Death
In 1999, about 4,000 Americans died from opioid overdoses. By 2013, that number had soared to over 16,000 deaths.
Death Rates Per 100,000 People:
The 3 Worst States(2010)
West Virginia
New Mexico
Over 400,000 Emergency Room visits in 2011 were due to prescription painkiller abuse. That equates to nearly 1,100 people a day, on average, hospitalized.
Painkillers kill far more Americans every year than heroin
Age-adjusted drug-poisoning death rates:
United States, 1999-2012
Women and Painkillers
Nearly 48,000 women died of prescription painkiller overdoses between 1999 and 2010.
Deaths from prescription painkiller overdoses among women have increased more than 400% since 1999,compared to 265% among men.
For every woman who dies of a prescription painkiller overdose, 30 go to the emergency department for painkiller misuse or abuse.
Pain and Plenty of Gain
Painkiller Sales in
the United State
$2.3 billion other
$2.5 billion Oxycontin
(IMS Health)
Oxycontin has over
of the market share
In 2010, U.S. doctors prescribed enough painkillers to keep every American adult medicated
24 HOURS a day for a month straight.
Prescription painkiller abuse costs $72.5 BILLION annually in direct healthcare costs.
That's higher than the gross domestic product (GDP) of Uruguay, Croatia, and Kenya.
Lobbying Power of the Pharmaceutical Industry
In 2013, big pharma spent $226 million lobbying congress. That's $73 million more than the next biggest industry spender: Insurance.
Lobbying Dollars by Industry
1,450 lobbyists worked on behalf of the pharmaceutical industry in 2013 — nearly double the number that lobbied for Big Oil.
Source: Opensecrets.org
See Sources
Addicted: How Painkillers Became More Deadly Than Car Accidents
Searching for answers in the face of a silent epidemic. What doctors, schools, and public health officials are doing to stymie America's deadly addiction to painkillers.