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Painkiller sales soar amid fears

Sales of the nation's two most popular prescription painkillers have exploded in parts of the country, an Associated Press analysis shows, prompting fears among experts who say the push to relieve patients' suffering is spawning an addiction epidemic.

Drug Enforcement Administration figures show dramatic rises between 2000 and 2010 in the distribution of oxycodone, the key ingredient in OxyContin, Percocet and Percodan. Some places saw sales increase sixteenfold. Meanwhile, the distribution of hydrocodone, the key ingredient in Vicodin, Norco and Lortab, is rising in Appalachia and the Midwest.

The increases have coincided with a wave of overdose deaths, pharmacy robberies and other problems in New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Florida and other states. Opioid pain relievers, the category that includes oxycodone and hydrocodone, caused 14,800 overdose deaths in 2008, and the toll is rising, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The increase is partly due to the aging U.S. population with pain issues and a greater willingness by doctors to treat pain, said Dr. Gregory C. Bunt, medical director at New York's Daytop Village chain of drug treatment clinics.

Sales are being driven by addiction, as users become dependent on painkillers and begin "doctor shopping," he said.