New Project: The Prescription Epidemic

By January 22, 2012September 10th, 20123 Comments

Today we’re publishing The Prescription Epidemic, a set of reports on the human cost of prescription drug addiction in Washington State. The project is the result of a six-month investigation led by InvestigateWest’s Carol Smith into the origins of the epidemic, the challenges it poses for communities going forward, and what lessons other states might learn.

You can read the resulting work this morning in The Spokesman-Review and on, as well as here on our website. This project also marks our fourth collaboration with PBS affiliate KCTS-9. Monday, Jan. 30 at 9 p.m., KCTS is airing a documentary we co-produced on the faces of this addiction.

Prescription pain medications kill more Americans than heroin and cocaine combined, and in a pill-happy culture, the trend shows few signs of reversing.

Washington State has been at the epicenter. The state’s residents are among the highest consumers of prescription pain meds in the country. They are also dying from prescription overdoses at a rate of two people a day, one of the highest rates in the nation.

At the beginning of this month, the strictest prescribing law in the country went into effect. But many loopholes in the system remain. Public health experts around the country are watching what happens, and tracking other innovative pilot programs here aimed at cutting abuse.

Let us know what you think. Share your own stories on our Facebook page. And stay tuned this week as we release more documents, maps, data, and interviews on the prescription epidemic.

Jason Alcorn

Jason Alcorn

Jason is InvestigateWest's associate director. A veteran of technology projects and online strategy for the nonprofit sector, he is a graduate of Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs and Graduate School of Journalism.


  • One critically important fact about the dangers associated with methadone for analgesia has not been mentioned in your current series: during the period of steepest increase in prescribing of methadone for pain management, and the associated rise in deaths, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommended a dose that unequivocally can be lethal for the patient beginning treatment. In Nov. 2006 FDA dropped its recommendation from a range of up to 80 mg/day to 30 mg (a dose still in effect, though it is four times higher than that suggested by the American Academy of Pain Medicine). Inexplicably, the 2006 change was made without any notice – then or since – to healthcare providers or the public.

    It is not unlikely that to this day many physicians throughout the nation continue to rely on decades-long, potentially deadly, FDA guidelines. This would seem a logical initial focus for health authorities in Washington and throughout the country, even as they plan for other ways to stem the tragic death toll.

    Additional info happily provided.

    • Alicia Price says:

      Well I need to just state that I have not ever shared what I am about to with anyone and even more so on the internet for the world to see and read, What made me do this at this time is No matter where, or what doctors(not targeting any individually) when it comes to pain management or methadone have a judgement on the patient or person seeking this highly addictive opiates in any way possible an addict no matter what the law or changes made will still find them and use them. I know this first hand due to the fact I was addicted to opiates. I was so addicted I could not move off my couch until I had opiates. Then it became even worse as they became harder and harder to grasp. My own mother was the one who started feeding me her oxycodone at age 18. I did not even or what a pain pill was to me advil or asprin worked. After years of taking these pills and spending all my money that came into my hand I ended up in a methodone clinic. preganate at that time of entering I was un aware of the baby developing in me. I started on 30 mg a day for the first 4 days as allowed then you are able to increase every 3 days with just being asked what your withdrawl signs are. Now a good example to give fact to my statement above on an addict will find a way…Well I can not say how many people at clinics just go so they are not sick everyday they start off with doses uder 50mg, why? because this allows them to use the pills and get “high off them” My goal was to get right i was active and so much more until this diesease came into my life. long story short i was on methodone for 3 years way to long I was scared to fall back if I got off. But i woke up one day and said I am done going to the clinic. My life on methodone sucked I gained 100lbs fast, would fall asleep at any moment and “say my dose was to high” I was only at 60mg a day. burn holes from smoking and dropping my cigg due to just falling asleep. mood changes felt great in the morning then by night forget it. I know am 27 years old and have 3 bulging discs in my back along with severe RA. so I know live with dealing with it. labeled as an addict in my records no doctor wanted to help me. But 10 years later and a lot of proving i can do it I have found my doctor who I have a great relationship with and take very minimum dose a day and I can honestly say I do not get high nor do i take them for that reason it releases enough pressure off my back to be able to make it day to day. I am an addict for the rest of my life even if I am not using its everyday struggle no matter what It does not matter who you are. been 7 years clean and I love it and just to add to this if in methodone clinic and dosed the right way it will work. Mind over matter and wanting to get well is first step in stopping. being labeled by others is the first cause of relapse.

  • Deaths due to prescription painkiller overdoses now exceed the number of heroin and cocaine overdose deaths combined, says CDC Director Thomas Frieden, who is joining Gil Kerlikowske, the director of National Drug Control Policy, also known as the nation’s drug czar, to raise awareness about how prescription drug abuse deaths have tripled since 1999.

    Doctors should also screen their patients for substance abuse or mental illness, the CDC suggests, to prevent someone from getting addicted to these drugs. Also, physicians are encouraged to only prescribe the appropriate amount of painkiller, if necessary. So if someone needs only three days’ worth of Vicodin for example, don’t prescribe a 30-day supply.

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