The road to Paul Little’s addiction began during a hard day at work. He took one pill to ease a headache, which turned into nine-month habit.

“I got up to 20 to 30 Percocets a day,” the former Air Force doctor said. “I was eating them like M&Ms.”

Kathy Thomas took opioids for two years until a doctor told her she was being unnecessarily medicated. She still lives with the psychological consequences.

“I still don’t think that I have cognitive functioning back where it needs to be,” the former Army program manager said.

Ted Flores, who suffered from a pinched nerve and a couple of degenerative discs from a car crash, knows how ordinary people can get hooked on pain pills. As a pharmacy technician, he saw customers who looked like him.


“I was one of the many.”

In 2018, 47,590 people died of an opioid overdose, and more than 2 million suffer from opioid addiction disorder, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health. The rising death and addiction toll has followed a decade-long surge in the distribution of prescription opioids — according to federal data, more than 76 billion pills flooded the country from 2006 to 2012.

Medical experts say genetics account for about half of the risk of addiction, but mental health issues, violence in the home and access to drugs also contribute. Law enforcement officials blame illegal drug diversion by corrupt doctors and an overabundance of supply sent out by drug companies that fail to properly monitor suspicious orders. The companies blame bad doctors and individuals who abuse their products.


Earlier this year, The Washington Post asked readers to share their stories about how opioids have affected their communities. More than 700 people responded. Hundreds wrote about the devastation to their hometowns, their families and themselves. Scores of chronic-pain patients said they needed opioids to live full lives and were concerned about efforts to restrict the supply during what they believed to be a period of hysteria about opioids.

Many readers said it was easy to get hooked on the pills, whether they were taken to treat an injury or at a party. Once addiction took hold, the consequences were life-altering.

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