February 24th, 2012
12:26 PM ET

CDC director: We can reduce prescription drug overdoses

Thirty years ago, I attended medical school in New York. In the key lecture on pain management, the professor told us confidently that patients who received prescription narcotics for pain would not become addicted.

While pain management remains an essential patient right, a generation of health care professionals, patients, and families have learned the hard way how deeply misguided that assertion was. Narcotics - both illegal and legal - are dangerous drugs that can destroy lives and communities.

Millions of Americans struggle with substance abuse. Across the United States, overdoses involving opioid painkillers - a class of drugs with narcotic effects that includes hydrocodone, methadone, oxycodone - have skyrocketed in the past decade.

Today, the United States consumes most of the world’s supply of opioid painkillers. By 2010, enough opioid painkillers were prescribed to medicate every American adult around-the-clock for a month. And every year, nearly 15,000 people die from overdoses involving these drugs... more than from heroin and cocaine combined.

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.