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WCBS 880 Special Series: Bad Medicine - Part 11 - Undoing The Damage Of The Painkiller Push

WCBS 880 reporter Irene Cornell is doing an extended series on drug abuse, called Bad Medicine: When Painkillers Kill. The series will run through May 25. Be sure to check for her pieces if you miss them on-air.

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - Major pharmaceutical companies saw dollar signs when they first began to push doctors to freely prescribe powerful opiate-based painkillers for just about anything, WCBS 880's Irene Cornell reported.

That was 15 years ago and now we have a true public health crisis as a result.

WCBS 880's Irene Cornell On The Story


Dr. Andrew Kolodny formed Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing (PROP) to try and undo the damage.

"The message for physicians was really that they shouldn't worry about getting patients addicted, that the risk of addiction is very low or that it's rare," Kolodny told Cornell. "Of course, this was all made up. But, believe it or not, there are many doctors who still believe this."

PROP's goal is to educate doctors about the dangers of these medications.

The out of control sales of prescription drugs are a criminal problem, and that's where Bridget Brennan, New York City's Special Narcotics Prosecutor, comes into the picture.

Brennan told Cornell that there are more holes than you can count in the laws that regulate the sale of these prescription painkillers.

"There are just too many of these opioid prescription drugs, too many prescriptions being filled, more than we need.  And to the extent that that surplus supply is out there, you're going to find people abusing those pills and getting addicted to them," Brennan told Cornell.

Too often, the results are tragic.

Some individual pharmacists are not waiting for laws to be passed that might better control the prescribing and sale of highly addictive painkillers.

Signs are popping up all over in neighborhood drug stores that read "We no longer carry Oxycodone."

The robberies, the shootouts, and the killings have gotten the message across.

"We've seen prescription pills turn into a form of currency really, and the pills that have a value of $2 if you obtain them in the pharmacy, might be worth $20 on the street," Brennan told Cornell. "And so not only do you see people using their own prescriptions, but you see the pharmacies robbed and not only is cash taken, but the robbers are demanding the prescription pills as well, and they demand them by name - Oxycodone, Vicodin, Oxycontin."

As for the cases her office is investigating, she said, "These cases are not just paper cases. There's a great potential for violence in these cases."

These cases, particularly, against pill mill doctors, are hard to make, but Brennan is determined to pursue them.

What do you think should be done about the problem of prescription drug abuse? Sound off in the comments section below.

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