‘It’s an Epidemic’: CDC Fighting to Curb Narcotic Prescriptions

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ARLINGTON, Texas -- There's a deadly killer in America, that might already be in your home...

"It's the biggest killer of people between the ages of 18 and 64 in America," says Dr. Glenn Hardesty, an Emergency Physician for Texas Health Resources.

What's Dr. Hardesty so concerned about?  Well, he says opioid drugs -- OxyContin, morphine, and codeine are a few examples -- are being abused far too often.

"There's not a day that goes by in the Emergency Department that I'm not dealing with opiate-related issues," Hardesty told NewsFix. "It's not just a problem - it's an epidemic."

And the epidemic can be blamed, to some degree, on doctors who over-prescribe these painkillers.

Check out this stat from the CDC: "In 2012, health care providers wrote 259,000,000 prescriptions for opiate pain medications.  That's enough for every adult in the United States to have a bottle of pills."

That's why the CDC is now cracking down on those opiate-based medications, with a new set of guidelines.

Aside from special cases -- cancer patients, and patients in hospice, for example -- the CDC says doctors should treat chronic pain with weaker, non-addictive meds.  Because used incorrectly, opioids can kill more than just the pain.

"Nobody dies from pain, but the biggest killer in America today are painkillers," said Dr. Hardesty. "I mean doctors, in their heart, we want to do the right thing for people.  We have to take a stand: 'First do no harm.'"

Reducing the amount of dangerous medication that's out there seems great on paper, but there's another opioid epidemic going on: Heroin abuse.  And a lot of folks who are addicted to heroin got hooked on painkillers first.

So, will taking away their legal fix push them toward even more dangerous stuff?

"Certainly, it could push them toward other means of obtaining the medication - or drug in this case," Dr. Hardesty said.

But he also says the new guidelines should limit the substances that make it to the black market in the first place. "It's not just heroin, but there are people that sell their prescriptions."

At any rate, with a problem this big, the ER doc says something needs to be done.

"Why it keeps getting swept under the rug, I have no idea," said Hardesty. "I mean, it's the biggest killer in America, and it's preventable.  Don't you think that's where we ought to focus our energy?"