For years prescription drug abuse has been getting worse and worse, and we’ve all heard about how it’s ruining people’s health and destroying lives.

But there’s another cost associated with the problem.  Everybody is paying for it, whether they’re aware of it or not.

Recent studies find the total financial cost of prescription drug abuse now exceeds 120 billion dollars a year.

Jim Quiggle, Director of Communications of The Coalition Against Insurance Fraud, says we measure this “in lost productivity, in higher premiums, as a drain on the medical system, and a drain on the average American taxpayer money…insurance money is what is paying for so many of these drugs – this translates to higher premiums that all of us have to pay during a down-turned economy.”

He points out “the door is wide open to painkillers -anywhere you want, you can find them…crooked clinics are spooning them out like candy to almost anyone who asks, dishonest pharmacies are involved – they’re helping grease the skids for obtaining these drugs… in some locations crooks are setting up sham pharmacies whose sole purpose is to grease the skids for prescription drugs…it is costing society tens of billions of dollars a year.”

Quiggle adds “prescription drug abuse is the largest epidemic that too many Americans don’t know much about…this is something we all need to wake up to, because we’re all paying a price – it’s far too big a price for us to continue paying as a society, especially when our economy is so shaky -we need to wake up.”

The problem has gotten so bad that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now considers prescription drug abuse to be an epidemic. Statistics show more than 36 thousand people died of drug overdoses in 2008 – the most recent year that data has been analyzed.

Experts agree prescription painkillers like oxycodone, and hydrocodone are increasingly being abused. Oxycodone and hydrocodone are sold under the brand names OxyContin and Vicodin.