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Americans hooked on Vicodin

Americans hooked on Vicodin
The use of prescription painkillers like Vicodin have spiked across America, making the drug the most common in the nation.

Are Americans suffering from more pain than ever before, or have they become addicted to the drugs? It remains unclear.

The popularity of the drug Vicodin indicates it must be one or the other. Use of the drug grew from 112 million doses prescribed in 2006 to 131 million today, according to a survey by IMS Health.

It is far more likely the drug is overprescribed than it is the American people are in excessive pain. Experts say most of these prescriptions are simply unnecessary. The US makes up fewer than 5 percent of the global population but consumer over 80 percent of the world’s opioids, like Vicodin.

Vicodin is the most prescribed opioid mainly because it's been incorrectly scheduled as a class III rather than a [class] II," Andrew Kolodny, Chair of Psychiatry at Maimonides Medical Center in New York told ABC News. "Many states have prescribing regulations linked to DEA scheduling. But it is no less abusable or addictive than Oxycodone or heroin."

The Drug Enforcement Agency has licensed over 600,000 members of the medical community to prescribe Vicodin. General physicians, specialists, dentists and internists all have the ability to prescribe the drug for a range of pain related reasons. Many critics argue medical practitioners often turn to Vicodin because it is less regulated than other narcotic prescription drugs.

Opioids are essentially legal heroine," Lewis Nelson, who served on an FDA panel to revise the Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS) of the prescription drugs, told ABC News.

Accidental overdoses or misuse of Vicodin and similar drugs kills more Americans per year than car accidents in at least 17 US states. Prescription drugs, according to Obama administration health officials, are now responsible for e a greater number of deaths than crack-cocaine in the 1980’s and black tar heroin in the 1970’s.

Patients often get addicted without recognizing it.

"The progression happened very quickly," said Carolyn Alfieri, who was taking pain killers for shoulder pain. "It went from Tylenol with Codeine, to Vicodin, to Percocet, to the Oxycontin."

Obama administration drug czar Gil Kerlikowsk argued a culture of proscribing strong pain killing narcotics for mild pain began about a decade ago. This needs to change. Medical workers need to be educated and understand the importance and risk more effectively.

"In the amount of education and training that doctors get, there was very little time, if any, in medical schools and other places to be devoted to understanding this," Kerlikowsk told ABC News.

Most pain specialists argue narcotic prescriptions should only be used in cases of severe pain or terminal illnesses where the concern of addiction is not as present.