Nationwide epidemic: Part one of two of the opioid problem

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TWIN FALLS, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) Prescription opioids.

In the United States, these drugs are responsible for about 44 deaths a day, and local police say they see a death from opioid overdose at least once a month.

Former Twin Falls narcotics detective Ken Rivers said they frequently see prescription opioids in their work.

"That's always been a problem,” Rivers said. “That's always kind of the leading edge of the opioid addiction, because first of all, the source is readily available; its purity is always known.”

However, these drugs can get very expensive. The street price for OxyContin is about one dollar for every milligram. To put that into perspective, you could find heroin in Salt Lake for 50-100 dollars a gram. That’s a difference of at least 1,000 percent.

If your doctor stops prescribing these painkillers, some people are willing to pay that street price, but some will switch over to a different drug.

“That's why a lot of people say they tried heroin for the first time,” said Debbie Thomas, the CEO of the Walker Center, “because they can't get their prescribed medications."

The Walker Center is an alcohol and drug addiction recovery group, with facilities in Twin Falls and Gooding. Thomas works closely with people addicted to drugs, and she's seen the rise of opiate use up close. It is now tied for the number one reason people will seek help at the Walker Center.

She says many people don’t understand addiction.

“They think this is just ‘stop it, just stop it,’” she said. “It’s not. It’s about the unmanageability and the powerlessness.

“I’ve had addicts describe it as trying to hold your breath… You can for 30 seconds or a minute, but after that, you can’t.”

Getting help for a drug addiction can be expensive and time intensive. Thomas recommends a medical detox, four weeks of in-patient rehab and six months to one year of out-patient rehab. Even after that, the success rate is about 75 percent.

Instead of worrying about people going through that process, the easy solution might be to take prescription opioids off the market altogether.
But these drugs do help people.

So instead, it all starts at the very beginning.

***A previous edition of this story listed the statistic that only 54% of prescription opioids are for legitimate medical use, and credited the statistic to the Idaho Office of Drug Policy. This statistic is unfounded. It was derived from the IODP statistic, "54% of prescription opioids being used for nonmedical purposes are obtained from a friend or relative for free, with these friends or relatives most often obtaining them from one physician."

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