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Hydrocodone addiction is a growing crisis in the United States. While illegal drugs like cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine, and heroin remain in the headlines many individuals may be surprised to know that hydrocodone addiction could lurk right behind them as one of the most widely-abused drugs of addiction. In fact, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration believes hydrocodone may be the most abused prescription drug in the country. Nationwide, its use has quadrupled in the last ten years, while emergency room visits attributed to hydrocodone abuse soared 500 percent.
An estimated 7 million dosage units were diverted in 1994 and over 11 million in 1997.
In 1998 there were over 56 million new prescriptions written for hydrocodone products and by 2000 there were over 89 million.
From 1990 the average consumption nationwide has increased by 300%. In the same period there has been a 500% increase in the number of Emergency Department visits attributed to hydrocodone abuse with 19,221 visits estimated in 2000.
In 1997, there were over 1.3 million hydrocodone tablets seized and analyzed by the DEA laboratory system.
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Hydrocodone is a narcotic that can produce a calm, euphoric state similar to heroin or morphine–and despite such important and obvious benefits in pain relief, evidence is pointing to chronic addiction. Pure hydrocodone is a Schedule II substance, closely controlled with restricted use. But very few prescription drugs are pure hydrocodone. Instead, small amounts of hydrocodone are mixed with other non-narcotic ingredients to create medicines like Vicodin and Lortab. This means they can be classified under Schedule III with fewer restrictions on their use and distribution.
Vicodin, Lortab–and more than 200 other products that contain hydrocodone–are regulated by state and federal law. But they are not controlled as closely as other powerful painkillers. The lack of regulation makes them vulnerable to widespread abuse and addiction through forged prescriptions, theft, over-prescription, and “doctor shopping.” Hydrocodone pills have been sold for $2 to $10 per tablet and $20 to $40 per 8 oz bottle on the street.
Subject to individual tolerance, many medical experts believe dependence or addiction can occur within one to four weeks at higher doses of Hydrocodone. Published reports of high profile movie stars, TV personalities and professional athletes who are recovering from Hydrocodone addiction are grim testimony to its debilitating effects.
Hydrocodone is structurally related to codeine and is approximately equal in strength to morphine in producing opiate-like effects. The first report that hydrocodone produced a noticeable euphoria and symptoms of addiction was published in 1923; the first report of hydrocodone addiction in the U.S. was published in 1961.
Every age group has been affected by the relative ease of hydrocodone availability and the perceived safety of these products by professionals. Sometimes seen as a “white-collar” addiction, hydrocodone abuse has increased among all ethnic and economic groups. DAWN data demographics suggest that the most likely hydrocodone abuser is a 20-40 yr old, white, female, who uses the drug because she is dependent or trying to commit suicide. However, hydrocodone-related deaths have been reported from every age grouping.
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