Doctors Writing Too Many Prescriptions for Oxycodone, Hydrocodone, Other Painkillers May 29, 2014.

"Drug overdose death rates in the United States have more than tripled since 1990 and have never been higher," according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). "In 2008, more than 36,000 people died from drug overdoses, and most of these deaths were caused by prescription drugs." Painkillers such as OxyContin, Vicodin, and Valium caused nearly three out of four of those overdoses.

Why Are Doctors Writing So Many Prescriptions?

The number of prescription painkillers sold to pharmacies, hospitals, and doctors’ offices quadrupled between the years 1999 and 2010, per the CDC. Drugs are big business. As 8NewsNow investigators reported in November 2013, "American doctors wrote more than 4 billion prescriptions last year. That’s 13 prescriptions for every man woman and child. … It’s no coincidence that more Americans are killed by prescription medicines than die in auto accidents. Drug companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year to make sure doctors keep writing prescriptions."

Kickbacks are illegal, but this hasn’t stopped pharmaceutical companies from giving doctors gifts such as expensive meals and vacations as a "consulting fee," said reporter George Knapp.

"Ninety-four percent of doctors have some affiliation with a drug company or a medical device company," said Dr. Leana Wen.

Johnson and Johnson, Omnicare, Eli Lilly, and GlaxoSmithKline have all been forced to pay millions to settle kickback lawsuits in the last few years. Settlements such as these allowed Pro Publica to create a tool that allows people to see whether their doctor received kickbacks from 15 drug companies. Doctors and clinics in Ohio received 101,752,456 in disclosed payments.

About 17.3 percent of people who abuse oxycodone, hydrocodone, and the like received a prescription from their doctor, according to the CDC.

Veterans Overdosing on Prescription Drugs

According to a 2011 study, Veterans Affairs patients suffer a fatal prescription drug overdose at twice the rate of the rest of the country. Still, VA hospitals continue to overprescribe opioids.

"They’re very busy," Brig. Gen. Stephen Xenakis told PBS last October. "They have got time constraints. They have got pressures, and giving a prescription, which they know how to do and they’re trained to do, is almost a default."

In 2012, one VA clinic prescribed more opiates per patient than any VA facility in the United States, per the Center for Investigative Reporting. While reviewing 12 years of data, researchers found that, since the war in Afghanistan began, the number of prescriptions written "for four highly addictive painkillers" has skyrocketed 270 percent.

Marine Corps veteran Tim Fazio told PBS the VA has prescribed him almost 4,000 oxycodone pills since he returned from Iraq and Afghanistan. According to reporter Aaron Glantz, Fazio hadn’t even been injured. He took the drugs "to blot out the guilt and shame of surviving, when so many of his fellow Marines died after coming home." The VA knew he was addicted to the pills but continued to prescribe them.

"I thought the painkillers were OK because a doctor was prescribing it to me," Fazio said. "If the doctor is giving this to me, I’m going to take it, you know? And … if it makes you feel good, I’m going to take 15 of them, you know what I mean?"

Fazio survived multiple overdoses, but another veteran wasn’t as lucky.

U.S. Army Specialist Jeffrey Waggoner suffered a groin injury in Afghanistan, became addicted to prescription painkillers, and then went to a VA hospital to detox. When he left, he checked into a motel room, bought a six-pack of beer, drank one, decided he was hungry, and then went to a nearby restaurant for nachos and another beer. The motel’s security camera later revealed that Waggoner collapsed while entering his room, and lay there for an hour before paramedics arrived. The coroner found two beers, eight oxycodone pills, tranquilizers, and muscle relaxants in his system.

Waggoner’s father blames the VA for his son’s death. "I couldn’t believe the amount of medications that was being prescribed to him," he told PBS.

Contact Mellino Law Firm with Your Prescription Drug Overdose Questions

If a loved one died while taking oxycodone, hydrocodone, or another prescription drug, and you believe a doctor may be at fault, wrongful death attorney Chris Mellino welcomes you to contact our Cleveland office for a free consultation.