HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Prescription drug overdoses now top auto accidents as the leading cause of death in Hawaii.
It's not an exaggeration to call the prescription painkiller problem an "epidemic." Over the past decade, overdose deaths in Hawaii have climbed 68 percent.
Got pain? Get pills. It's the American way.
The U.S. makes up 4 percent of the world's population-- but takes 80 percent of the world's narcotic pain prescriptions.
Kailua mother of 4 Jenny Fisher was addicted to the popular painkiller oxycontin.
Fisher says, "It gets easily out of hand because of the ease of getting it and you're hooked after 2 or 3 days."
She was hooked on oxycontin for 5 years, until she sought help on Thanksgiving 7 years ago.
"It's pretty much your consuming thoughts" explains Fisher. "It's ok, when am I going to be able to do this again?"
According to Kaneohe physician Dr. Scott Miscovish, "It hits a receptor in their brain and it creates a drive that they almost lose control over."
Dr. Miscovich leads a narcotics policy group for the State that launched a prescription drug monitoring program.
Now for every medication prescribed, it goes to the pharmacy and the pharmacy reports it electronically to State Narcotics Enforcement Division Chief, Keith Kamita.
He gets daily logs for all 1.3 million prescriptions filled statewide this year.
Red flags are revealed instantly. He pointed out one potential problem, saying "There's a question whether some of these are forgeries or whether that doctor is just prescribing a lot of these narcotics."
Dr. Miscovich says the black market is booming, saying "If they get a prescription, they can walk away with thousands of dollars street value in drugs."
"Oxycodone probably 7 or 8 a tablet" says Kamita. "Oxycontin a dollar a milligram."
Armed robbers have targeted painkillers by holding up Hawaii pharmacies.
As scrutiny on prescription narcotics intenstifies, some addicts have graduated to heroin.
That's one of the bombshells that Filmmaker Edgy Lee explores in a one hour film that will air on KGMB and KHNL in December called "Unprescribed: Prescription for Addiction."
The film shares this startling statistic from a hearing on the connection between prescriptions and heroin, "4 out of 5 heroin users today started with prescription drugs."
According to Carolyn Rose-Slane, Detox Director of the Salvation Army's Addiction Treatment Services in Honolulu,
"Some of those people have started using heroin because oxycontin is too expensive and they're telling me heroin is cheaper and easier to get."
Rose-Slane beat her own opiate addiction here through support from a team of counselors.
"It isn't just over with in a week" explains Rose-Slane. "You can't take a pill to fix a pill problem."
The State's Takeback drug program has been a success.
Kamita showed us about 150 boxes filled with meds that were torched at H-Power.
But, there will be more to replace them, more addiction and overdoses... unless we change our culture of prescription.
Fisher says, "I took it because the doctor said here it's ok."
Kamita adds, "They think how can it hurt me? It's prescribed by a doctor. It can not be dangerous, but it is."
Miscovich concludes, "We have to start turning away to more complimentary treatments that are non-pharmaceutical or non narcotic."
Part of the change may include urine testing for any patient seeking pain pills. The narcotics policy group will propose that as part of a prescription drug package to lawmakers in January.
Edgy Lee's Film "Unprescribed: Prediction for Addiction" will air Wednesday, December 3 at 9pm on KGMB and Sunday, December 7 at 9pm on KHNL.