By John Lauritsen

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Prince was reportedly on prescription pain medications when he died.

The Mayo Clinic says nearly 70 percent of Americans are on at least one prescription drug. The majority of those drugs are used to relieve pain.

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So, what is causing people pain?

“In the last several years there’s been a huge increase in the sale of prescription opiods,” said Dr. JoAn Laes, a medical toxicologist with Hennepin County Medical Center.

Those opioids include, among others, morphine, oxycodone and hydrocodone.

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And there are reasons why we may be seeing more cases of chronic pain than ever before.

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“The population is aging. We are living longer now, so we have more conditions that are debilitating, like arthritis,” Laes said.

With advancements in medicine, more surgeries are taking place. Baby boomers who are becoming senior citizens may require hip and knee surgeries. Medications are then prescribed to relieve the pain.

“Chronic medical conditions can affect the way your body reacts to these medications and can leave you at risk for overdose,” Laes said.

She says our bodies can become both physically and psychologically dependent on the drugs. People who have a family history of addiction are more likely to become dependent on prescription medicine, and seek more of it from their doctor.

“It’s important to know that we can curb this epidemic and see that people take this medication safely and not die from medications that we are prescribing,” she said.

Dr. Laes says you can be at risk even if you are not addicted to a prescription pain medication. That is especially true if you already have a chronic condition.

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She does not see opioids ever going away, but she does think prescribing practices will get better over time, allowing people to better manage their pain and be less reliant on medications.

John Lauritsen