For years, Amanda Fink’s mother shared her pain pills as a form of maternal comfort. Her mother had scar tissue after a hysterectomy, and with that came a long-standing prescription for OxyContin. “When I was upset, she’d give me one and say, ‘Here, this will make you happier,'” explains Fink, 28.

Then when Fink gave birth to her daughter three years ago, she got a prescription of her own. “They had to put me under because my nerves were so high,” recounts the mom from Pennsylvania. “After that, the doctors gave me Vicodin.” Within a couple months — the first months of her baby’s life — she became addicted. The medication helped alleviate her postpartum anxiety. In less than a year, she advanced to heroin. (She’s not alone: As many as 45% of people who used heroin were also addicted to prescription opioid painkillers.)

If you are a living, breathing adult in the United States, the chances are good that you’ve been prescribed an opioid painkiller — say, Percocet after wisdom teeth surgery, or Vicodin for a chronically bad back. In 2012, 259 million painkiller prescriptions were written. That’s enough for every American adult to have a bottle of pills.

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2016-08-18T13:53:35+00:00