Tonawanda News — Drug addiction, once called the quiet epidemic, is no longer the stuff of back alleys or urban drug houses. No longer is it the domain of society’s fringe or a countercultural statement.
These days, the problem is much closer to home.
That’s because pharmaceutical drugs have replaced street drugs like heroin and cocaine as the single leading cause of overdose death among users nationwide, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The drugs accounted for 60 percent of all overdose deaths in 2010, the most recent year for which data was compiled.
It marks the 11th straight year that overdose deaths in general have increased in the U.S., and three out of every four pharmaceutical overdoses in 2010 involved prescription painkillers like hydrocodone, oxycodone and methadone.
Deaths specifically involving such painkillers, commonly called opioids, were 4,030 in 1999, a number that skyrocketed to 15,597 for 2009 and 16,651 in 2010, when prescription drugs in general accounted for 22,134 of a total of 38,329 drug overdose deaths nationwide.
The CDC said the numbers confirm “the predominant role opioids ... play in drug overdose deaths.”
Unlike their illicit counterparts — drugs with street names like smack, H and blow — America’s newest addiction, prescription painkillers, doesn’t necessarily require a drug dealer or a clandestine exchange. Frequently they are the remnants of prescriptions lingering in medicine cabinets, easily accessible by anyone.
Or they are gotten straight from the pharmacy in what can be a completely legal exchange of money for drugs.
“From my perspective it is the number one drug problem we are having, absolutely,” said Anne Constantino, president and CEO of Horizon Health Services, a counseling and addiction recovery clinic serving the Tonawandas.
She said the problem is so big in this area that New York state’s latest budget includes a competitive grant to expand residential drug treatment services, a grant available in just two areas of the state: Staten Island and Western New York.