The facts about legal narcotics

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By Merilee Dannemann

The medical cost of prescription opioid abuse in the United States is estimated to be more than $300 billion a year. That’s billion with a “b.”

This statistic, which almost knocked me out of my chair, was presented recently at a conference of the New Mexico Workers’ Compensation Association by Dr. Charles Kennedy of Corpus Christi, Texas, an expert on occupational medicine issues. This part of his talk was subtitled “Pain Medication Crisis.”  

No kidding.

A few more statistics from Kennedy:

• The United States has only 4 percent of the world’s population, yet we consume 80 percent of the world’s opium supply and 99 percent of the world’s hydrocodone.

• Compared to non-abusers, opioid abusers were 78 times more likely to have a non-opioid poisoning. That’s 78, not a typographical error.

• Abusers were 36 times more likely to have Hepatitis A, B, or C and 21 times more likely to have pancreatitis. The national average for health care costs for an opioid user is $15,884 per year compared to $1,830 per year for the rest of us (based on a statistic from 2005).

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