Opiate prescriptions skyrocket in Minnesota

Published December 17, 2012, 08:40 AM

By: Brandon Stahl and Maryjo Webster, Forum Communications, DL-Online

For the past 20 years, 39-year-old Esko native Clay Pirkola has had a drug problem. For the past 10 years, those drugs have been prescription narcotic painkillers like Oxycontin, Vicodin and methadone.


Even though those narcotics – also called opioids – are highly controlled and can only be obtained through a doctor’s prescription, Pirkola said during the time he was hooked on them he never had a problem getting his hands on any pill he wanted.


“You wake up every day and you need something,” Pirkola said. “And you call around: Usually somebody knows somebody who has pills they’ll sell, or there are people that will get a good deal from somebody and gather them up, and they’ll go sell them.


“I had unlimited pills,” he said.


One of the reasons it was so easy to get the drugs: More opioid painkillers are being distributed in the Northland and in Minnesota than ever before, a joint Duluth News Tribune and St. Paul Pioneer Press investigation has found.


Narcotic prescriptions used to combat pain nearly doubled from 2005 to 2011, when there was enough oxycodone and hydrocodone distributed in Minnesota to provide 18 pills for every man, woman and child. That’s up from two pills per person in 1997.


Though Minnesota ranks low overall compared to the rest of the country in opiate use, its impact on the state has been no less devastating.


As the use of those painkillers has gone up, so have the rates of opiate addiction, crimes, arrests and deaths from the drugs in the state, the News Tribune and Pioneer Press found.


Particularly alarming, experts say, is that prescription pill addicts have been switching to heroin, and Mexican drug dealers have flooded the Twin Cities with some of the cheapest and purest heroin available in the U.S.


“Clearly, we have all the ingredients of a prescription opiate and heroin epidemic in the state of Minnesota,” said Carol Falkowski, Minnesota’s former drug-abuse strategy officer and a national expert on the issue.


Dr. David Schultz, the founder and medical director of the Minneapolis-based MAPS Medical Pain Clinics, said the state has reached a point where too many opiate-based drugs are being prescribed.


“We’re doing that, in part, because of the new products that the drug companies are creating and marketing,” he said, “Secondly, it’s easy for a doctor to write a prescription. Patients are happy when they get a prescription, and doctors’ satisfaction ratings go up because doctors are being judged on patient satisfaction. If they say no to a patient, then they’ll give them a bad rating, and it may give them a bad income. There’s a lot of perverse incentives to write a prescription, and that’s an unfortunate situation.” Read More…


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