Media playback is unsupported on your device

Why do Americans consume 80% of world's painkiller drugs?

9 May 2012 Last updated at 02:36 BST

Rich Elassar is a victim of the fastest growing drug addiction in the US.

The 36-year-old from New Jersey began taking the painkiller Percocet to get high at weekends. Within months, his addiction spiralled out of control and he turned to crime to finance his habit.

Mr Elassar served three years in jail robbing a bank and lost his business and his wife as a result. Outside of prison he has struggled to stay clean, relapsing four times.

Now he is under the care of a physician and taking medication to curb his addiction. He has been clean for more than a year.

Americans consume 80% of opiate painkillers produced in the world, according to congressional testimony by the American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians. And addicts are not the only ones impacted by the crisis.

Howard Levine runs a pharmacy on Long Island that was twice robbed by an addict desperate for painkillers. He no longer provides most prescription painkillers.

Unlike drugs like heroin or cocaine, painkiller drugs are legal. Many are now asking whether over-prescription by doctors is making the epidemic worse.