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Kentucky’s Plight with Pain Pill Misuse Rising

December 30, 2011

FRANKFORT, Ky. – Kentucky is in sixth place nationally for its number of overdoses related to prescription drug abuse. A new poll by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky shows how the epidemic is touching more lives than many might assume.

Sarah Walsh, senior program officer for the foundation, says the deaths correspond to a steep increase in the sale of opioid pain relievers, including OxyContin, Vicodin and Percocet. Most of those surveyed said they have become familiar with addiction, she adds.

"About one in three respondents to our poll said, 'Yes, someone in my family or one of my friends has experienced problems as a result of abusing prescription pain relievers.'"

Karen Kelly is president and CEO of Operation UNITE, a drug eradication and education group in Eastern Kentucky, where prescription drug abuse is prevalent. The poll found more than 40 percent of area residents know abusers of prescription medications, compared to 32 percent of the state as a whole.

"We're in a really sad state of affairs when we have more individuals dying in this country of prescription drug abuse than car accidents – and that's where we are."

Kelly says pain pill misuse is devastating Eastern Kentucky families, regardless of their social and economic clout. She believes policies that mandate addiction education for prescribers and physicians is one solution, and says better reporting is also important.

"It's not always reported appropriately. Sometimes, it's listed as a heart attack or even a car accident, when the underlying cause was prescription drugs."

Kelly says the effects on children orphaned by drug-abusing parents are often overlooked.

"In one, very small school, 38 parents have died of drug overdoses. In another school, 15 have died in this last school year. And, many people maybe don't have the heart for what that means, the struggles that that family goes through."

The survey found that young adults are more likely to have misused a prescription pain reliever, and also more likely to know someone who has. About one in ten Kentuckians ages 18 to 29 reported misuse of these medications, compared with only two percent of adults over age 65.

The poll is online at

Renee Shaw, Public News Service - KY