Fight for opioid regulation continues as abuse of prescription painkillers soars

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Opioids are highly addictive. (Source: KPHO/KTVK) Opioids are highly addictive. (Source: KPHO/KTVK)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidelines for opioid pain medications earlier this year. (Source: KPHO/KTVK) The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidelines for opioid pain medications earlier this year. (Source: KPHO/KTVK)
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey earlier this year ordered the state's employee insurance plan and its Medicaid plan to limit narcotic painkiller prescriptions in an effort to cut future drug addiction. (Source: KPHO/KTVK) Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey earlier this year ordered the state's employee insurance plan and its Medicaid plan to limit narcotic painkiller prescriptions in an effort to cut future drug addiction. (Source: KPHO/KTVK)
MESA, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -

As more and more people become addicted to prescription drugs, some lawmakers are calling for restrictions on prescriptions for painkilling opioids.

Three recovering addicts shared their stories of drug abuse that started in a doctor’s office. Because the drugs are perfectly legal when prescribed by a physician, addiction can be difficult to spot.

Last year, more than 400 Arizonans overdosed on prescription opioids and rehab facilities throughout the state are overwhelmed by the sheer number of patients trying to get clean.

Sharon Martin, 51, was one of them. She hit rock bottom in 2014, one of nearly 2 million Americans who became addicted to opioids.

“I actually started on Vicodin and stuff like that,” she explained.

After following her dream to become a registered nurse, a fall at work was her downfall, stealing her dream one pill at a time. She thought that as a medical professional, she could control her addiction.

She was wrong.

At her worst, she was taking Fentanyl and Dihydrocodeine, both powerful painkillers. Fentanyl is more potent than morphine. Dihydrocodeine is generally prescribed for moderate to severe pain.

“Literally, the drugs stupefy you,” Martin explained.

Her experience, addiction stemming from treatment for an injury, is all too common. It can – and does – happen all the time.

“A key point to one of the big problems in the current opioid epidemic is that the access to the meds are [sic] so simple,” Dr. Laura Stewart, the program director at rehab facility called Recovia, said.

Matthew Nunez, 33, knows from first-hand experience.

He was addicted to opioids for two years after he was in a car crash, hit head-on by a semi. He broke both legs, shattered his ribs and was in a coma for four days. It took 27 surgeries to put him back together. When he went home, the pills took over his life.

“It consumed me, morning to night,” he said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently issued new guidelines advising a three-day dosage limit for such painkillers. Those guidelines seem to be going unheeded.

David Garcia, who suffered a work injury, said he never questioned his doctor about his prescriptions.

“I knew that I wanted it,” he said.

A National Safety Council survey found that 99 percent of doctors are exceeding the three-day limit. A quarter of them are writing prescriptions for a full month.

[READ: Opioid update: Painkiller misuse in U.S. doubled in decade]

Some politicians say there need to be more regulations.

For those on the state’s employee insurance plan or Medicaid, Gov. Doug Ducey recently limited opioid prescriptions for adults to a seven-day supply.

"The pain medication prescribers are being limited not only in how much they can prescribe but with what other types of medication,” Stewart explained.

Martin went to Recovia, offers a holistic approach designed to bring addicts back to life.

“A program like this, you can’t fail,” she said. “You just can’t.”

Garcia went there, too.

"You could just feel everything come back to you, your emotions are just out there,” Garcia said. "You start bawling, you start crying, you're like a little baby, you’re like, ‘Why am I crying?’”

Sober for a year now, Martin can relate.

"They gave me my life back,” she said. “I enjoy my children and grandchildren, everything. I'm going back to nursing."

Even with family close and supportive, the worry about the very real possibility of relapsing is constant, a daily struggle.

“If you are suffering from opioid addiction and dependency, you are definitely not alone,” Stewart said. A clinical psychologist who specializes in the neurobiology of trauma and addiction, she works not only with people struggle with addiction but also with those who suffer with chronic pain.

[RELATED: Opioid epidemic costs U.S. $78.5 billion annually]

The prescription drug abuse problem has gotten so bad that some doctors are prescribing patients another drug called Suboxone, which treats addiction to painkillers, which means they are using one drug to deal with the potentially “addictive impacts” of another.

Copyright 2016 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.


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