WASHINGTON (AP) -- Retail sales of five leading painkillers nearly doubled from 1997 to 2005, reflecting a surge in use by patients nationwide who are living in a world of pain, according to a new Associated Press analysis of federal drug prescription data.
The analysis reveals that oxycodone usage is migrating out of Appalachia to areas such as Columbus, Ohio, and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and significant numbers of codeine users are living in many suburban neighborhoods around the country.
The amount of five major painkillers sold at retail establishments rose 90 percent between 1997 and 2005, according to Drug Enforcement Administration figures.
More than 200,000 pounds of codeine, morphine, oxycodone, hydrocodone and meperidine were purchased at retail stores during 2005, the most recent year represented in the data. That is enough to give more than 300 milligrams of painkillers to every person in the country.
Oxycodone, the chemical used in OxyContin, is responsible for most of the increase. Oxycodone sales jumped nearly six-fold between 1997 and 2005. The drug gained notoriety as "hillbilly heroin," often bought and sold illegally in Appalachia. But its highest rates of sale now occur in places such as suburban St. Louis and Fort Lauderdale.
"What we're seeing now is the rest of the nation catching up to where we were," said Robert Walker, a researcher at the University of Kentucky Center on Drug and Alcohol Research.