Wisconsin’s Attorney General was among the participants in a panel discussion Tuesday morning in Brookfield about the problem of opioid abuse across the state.
The panel, hosted by Advanced Pain Management, highlighted the often unintentional ways people can become addicted to prescription painkillers, and how addiction to medicines can serve as a gateway to harder drugs.
Attorney General Brad Schimel said more than 850 people across Wisconsin die each year from overdoses on heroin or opioids.
“That’s more than people dying in car crashes,” Schimel said. “You can’t overstate how serious this problem is.”
“It’s a problem in every single community, and in Southeastern Wisconsin it’s as bad as anywhere else,” said Schimel, the former Waukesha County District Attorney.
“When I was DA, we had some years when there were four dozen people dying of opioid overdoses in Waukesha County,” Schimel said.
Schimel said people who become addicted to painkillers often do so unintentionally.
“People think that because these medications are prescribed by a doctor, they can’t be addictive and they can’t be deadly,” he said. “But they are when they’re misused.”
Ian Magolan said that’s what happened to him.
Magolan said he hurt his back at work in 2005, and became addicted to pain medication during his almost 10-yea recovery process. Magolan said he underwent two unsuccessful surgeries before a procedure finally corrected his back pain in 2010.
Magolan said, following the operation, he spent six weeks in a drug treatment program and has been clean since.
“It was horrible,” Magolan said of the years he abused pain medications. “I wasn’t active. I had almost no communication with my family. All I wanted to do was lay around and take medication.”
“The painkillers actually made the pain and my situation worse, rather than taking the pain away,” he said.
While Magolan never thought about experimenting with harder drugs, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Diversion Investigator Kathy Federico said people addicted to prescription opioids are 40 times more likely to become addicted to heroin.
Federico said 120 people across the U.S. die each day of drug overdoses. She said half of those overdoses can be traced to prescription medicines.
Dr. Nilesh Patel, Director of Education at Advanced Pain Management, said he’s noticed more and more people becoming addicted to painkillers through his work as a physician.
Patel said most patients respond well to opioids. But roughly 10 percent of those given prescriptions abuse them.
“Misuse can lead to death, and we’ve seen a 3.5-fold increase in overdose deaths since 2001 to now,” Patel said. “The most recent data set was published in December 2014 showing we lost 18-thousand Americans.”
In addition to Schimel, Patel and Federico, the panel included State Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) and healthcare attorney Arthur Thexton.