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Painkiller abuse called the 'new heroin'

Union Tribune April 10, 2006

SAN DIEGO – Abuse of prescription painkillers has become so extensive that the narcotics are being called the “new heroin” by leading drug authorities who say the problem is becoming a national crisis.

The abuse of these powerful painkillers was the topic of a one-day conference Monday in Balboa Park where medical experts and drug officials cautioned that more people are becoming addicted to these drugs than to illegal street drugs.

“It's a huge problem. The abuse of these synthetic opiates comes with the same personal consequences as abuse of heroin,” said retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey, who served as the head of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy from 1996 to 2001. “The lives of the abusers are ruined if they are not treated.”

McCaffrey, who is now a national security professor at West Point, was the keynote speaker at the conference sponsored by CRC Health Group, Inc, one of the largest chemical dependency treatment providers in the country.

Conference participants sought to define the problem of prescription drug abuse along with discussing new ways to treat and prevent addictions. It brought together state and local drug treatment specialists, and law enforcement officials.

There are an estimated 980,000 heroin users in the country while 1.4 million people are hooked on prescription painkillers. In San Diego, admissions for treatment of painkiller addiction at CRC clinics have jumped from 5 percent of all cases five years ago to 25 percent today.