Invisible Epidemic: Prescription Drugs Cause Most Overdoses - Local news, weather, sports Savannah | WSAV On Your Side

Invisible Epidemic: Prescription Drugs Cause Most Overdoses

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Actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman's death from a heroin overdose earlier this month is a reminder of the tragic path that addiction can take.  Overdose rates have been rising steadily for two decades now, but you seldom hear about one unless it involves someone famous. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control, drug overdose deaths now claim the lives of more people 25 to 64 than car crashes.  And while drugs like heroin and cocaine have not gone away, it's "legal drugs" taking the deadliest toll in America.

The C-D-C reports that 60 percent of drug overdoses, more than 22,000, were caused by prescription drugs.  The majority of those deaths—around 75 percent— involved prescription opiates such as Oxycodone and Hydrocodone.  The problem has become so prevalent that some have termed it an "invisible" epidemic.

While many people depend on prescription painkillers for legitimate relief from pain, I talked to several people who know firsthand how addictive and dangerous these drugs can also be.  Three former addicts discussed  how difficult it is to get off of painkillers and the devastating effect it can have on one's life.  One lost a promising job as a pharmacist.  One ended up in jail for doctor shopping.  Another was taking 40 pills a day before he finally found help .  Fortunately, all of three of them have now enjoyed long periods of sobriety and are working at Willingway Hospital in Statesboro now helping others who are facing active addiction.

Lesli Messinger, who you may remember as a Democratic candidate for U.S. Congress, also has experienced the pain that drug addiction can cause.  Her son, Austin, overdosed on Oxycontin and died at the age of 24.  She's hoping that Georgia legislators will pass two bills under consideration right now in committee—one would grant immunity from prosecution to those who report an overdose to police.  "You cant believe the Moms I have talked to whose kids are dead because their friends did not want to get in trouble," said Messinger.  The other bill would remove civil liabilities for doctors who prescribe Nalaxone,  which can prevent an overdose if administered timely.  Many other states have moved to make it more available to the public.

While Georgia lawmakers debate those measure designed to prevent overdoses, South Carolina legislators could attempt to tighten laws on prescription drugs this session.  Lt. Governor Glenn McConnell unveiled a bill that would make it illegal to have prescription drugs that weren't prescribed to you and to have multiple prescriptions for the same drug.

Meanwhile addiction to prescription drugs continues to be dangerous and sometimes deadly problem.  If you or someone you know needs help, there are a number of professional treatment centers in our area that can be found online.  Some have also been able to find relief through self help groups such as Narcotics Anonymous.

Click play to watch WSAV's special report "The Invisible Epidemic."

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