Interview: Dr. Mark Wilson on Alabama’s Painkiller Prescription Problem

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Interview: Dr. Mark Wilson on Alabama's Painkiller Prescription Problem

The number of deaths caused by drug overdoses has steadily increased over the past 20 years. And it’s not just illegal drugs like cocaine or heroin.

The abuse of prescription painkillers is a huge — and growing — problem. Painkiller overdoses are now the leading cause of injury death in America.

But this risk isn’t spread out evenly across the country. A report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention released earlier this month shows that the risk of prescription overdoes varies dramatically depending on where someone lives.

This CDC study was looking for patterns in prescriptions for painkillers like Percocet and Vicodin. They discovered that nationally, there are about 82.5 opioid painkiller prescriptions written for every 100 people in the U.S. But in southern states, the number was much higher, with Alabama leading the country in painkiller prescriptions. In 2012, there were 143 painkiller prescriptions for every 100 people in Alabama.

WBHM’s Rachel Osier Lindley spoke with Dr. Mark Wilson, Health Officer at the Jefferson County Department of Health, about why there are so many more painkiller prescriptions in the South and what Alabama is doing to address the problem.

This map shows the variation of prescription painkiller rates across the U.S. Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Map by Alyson Hurt/NPR.