Doctors warn the use of painkillers has reached epidemic proportions in B.C., soaring 25 per cent above the national average.

University of British Columbia researcher Steve Morgan said there are more opioid prescriptions filled in the province than anywhere else in Canada, a worrying trend given the drugs’ addictive qualities and black market value.

“British Columbians’ opioid use is high enough that it should be grounds for further investigation,” Morgan said.

“It should be grounds for our clinical practitioners to take a second look at the prescriptions they’re writing.”

Morgan said B.C. fills fewer prescriptions in general than one might expect given its aging population, but the province still stands out in painkiller use.

Over the last year, there were 512 painkiller prescriptions written per 1,000 British Columbians, compared to 422 per 1,000 Canadians, according to Morgan and his colleagues’ research.

There are concerns the trend is being fuelled by addictions to opioids, including oxycontin, a powerful drug normally used to treat severe or chronic pain.

Addiction specialist Dr. Jenny Melamed said the problem could soon become worse now that Health Canada has approved the generic forms of oxycontin.

“It destroys families and it destroys homes.” Melamed said. “We need to stop prescribing, we need to reign ourselves back in and understand we can’t treat all the pain with medication.”

Former addict Mark Lindsay told CTV News he was a successful financial planner before trying oxycontin at a party, which eventually led to a craving he succumbed to every day for more than two years.

He ended up stealing from friends and family to support his addiction.

“I went from earning a very good income, having lots of friends, no criminal record to basically being bankrupt,” Lindsay said.

“It’s available on the streets so readily, and it’s also available in your parents’ prescription cabinet.”

Researchers like Morgan fear the problem may already be so big it requires policy changes, such as heightened scrutiny to ensure each painkiller prescription is necessary.

With a report from CTV British Columbia’s Mi-Jung Lee