painkillers | KCUR

painkillers

Celia Llopis-Jepsen / Kansas News Service

TOPEKA, Kansas — More than two dozen cities and counties across Kansas have sued the opioid industry, from a small town with a population of 150 near the Colorado border to the state’s most populous county at its opposite end.

More may still file suits, legal experts say. And those that don’t could get a payout regardless if opioid makers, distributors and vendors opt for a global settlement. That would not only end the massive snarl of lawsuits brought by 2,600 parties nationwide but also prevent tens of thousands of other local governments from taking them to court, too.

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The pain might start after bumping an elbow on a kitchen counter. Or maybe the incident was more minor than that, and went completely unnoticed. But for some people, what begins as "nothing" converts to searing pain over part or all of the body.

"If you sprain your ankle, the nerves should turn off after a while once that's healed, that pain signaling should die down. But if you have a chronic pain syndrome, the nerves don't get the memo to turn off," says Cara Hoffart, a rheumatologist at Children's Mercy Hospital.

Segment 1: Problems with Pain.

Questions surrounding the treatment of pain are bigger than 'pill or no pill.' In this conversation, we explore cultural and philisophical ideas about pain and hear how those perceptions factor into treatment.

Alex Smith / KCUR 89.3

Doctors generally agree that opioids are not a good choice for treating most chronic pain. But scientists have struggled to develop safe pain treatments that provide the same level of relief as opioids.

Now there's hope that might change. New research supports the use of a treatment method that’s lurked for years on the fringes of medicine. The question is whether it will remain stuck there.

Alex Smith / KCUR 89.3

The Buck O’Neil Bridge just north of downtown is one of more hectic traffic spots in Kansas City, Missouri, and for Shari H, a car accident here in 2012 turned out to be life-changing.

She didn’t have any major injuries, but after days and weeks passed, she realized that her post-accident soreness wasn’t going away.

Alex Smith / KCUR 89.3

A few years ago, Renea Molden’s doctors told her they wanted to take her off hydrocodone pills. 

“I was mad,” Molden says. “I’ll be honest. I was mad. I was frustrated.”

The 39-year-old woman from Kansas City struggles with pain caused by fibromyalgia, herniated spinal discs and degenerative disc disease. She says the three opioid pills a day that doctors wanted her to stop taking seemed to be the only way she could make it through work, go shopping or even fix dinner.

frankieleon / Flickr - CC

While communities across the country deal with dramatic increases in illegal opioid use, statistics in Johnson County suggest rates of death and addiction closer to home are relatively more stable.

Court filings involving opioid offenses have remained relatively flat in recent years, and illegal use has decreased for hydrocodone and oxycodone, two of the most popular opiates, according to a report from public health and crime experts presented to the Johnson County Commission in June. Heroin use remains steady.

Despite those encouraging numbers, local officials are wary.

When it comes to chronic pain, opioids are the go-to treatment. But in light of the so-called "opioid epidemic," what are the viable alternatives for people living with pain? And what is it like to live with physical pain, knowing it will never fully go away?

Guests:

Growing up, as the searing pain of a sickle cell crisis would spread through her veins, Tanjila Bolden-Myers would ask her mother if this time, it would kill her.  

“I ask her now to this day, ‘Mom, how did you look me in my face and not break? Every time I asked you that?’” said Bolden-Myers, now 38. “And she was like, ‘No, baby, you’re not going to die this time. You’re not going to die.’”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

With overdose deaths from painkillers, or opioids, on the rise, the federal government is giving $3.8 million to health centers in Missouri and Kansas to combat the epidemic.

The grants are among $94 million the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is awarding to 271 health centers nationwide to address the abuse of opioids.

“Drug overdose deaths are the leading cause of injury deaths in the United States,” Stephene Moore, regional director of HHS, told reporters Friday in a conference call. “That’s even more than deaths from car crashes.”  

Tens of millions of Americans turn to powerful painkillers to ease their sufferings. But an analysis on the sales of two prescription drugs over a decade is particularly worrisome.

Check out The Associated Press' interactive map at the end of this post. It uses data from the Drug Enforcement Agency to show how sales of oxycodone and hydrocodone ballooned from 2000-10.

You can click on individual states to see which areas had the biggest increases.