Much of the responsibility for stopping the epidemic rests with the states and their regulation of prescription drugs, Frieden said. "State policy can make a huge difference in allowing or controlling this epidemic to proceed," he said.
Part of the problem: More of these drugs are available. Between 1999 and 2010, the amount of opioid painkillers sold to pharmacies, hospitals and doctors increased fourfold, the report said.
In addition, states are reporting problems with so-called "pill mills," where doctors prescribe large quantities of painkillers to people who don't need them. People are also getting prescriptions by going from doctor to doctor -- called "doctor shopping."
The epidemic also varies state to state. In 2008 and 2009, abuse of prescription painkillers ranged from one in 12 people in Oklahoma to one in 30 in Nebraska, the CDC found.
"Prescription painkillers are meant to help people in pain," Frieden said. "They are, however, highly addictive. Palliation of pain is a right and people with chronic pain, such as people with cancer whose pain cannot be relieved otherwise, can benefit enormously from effective pain relief," he said.
There are a number of steps that can be taken to combat the problem, Frieden said. First, states need to monitor who is prescribing these drugs and to whom, to identify doctors and patients who are getting prescriptions for non-medical use.
States also need to take action against abusers, Frieden said. One way is to limit patients with known drug problems to a single doctor for prescribing and a si
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