New documentary takes a look at prescription drug abuse epidemic

FOX 5 has been covering the opioid medication and heroin problem in this country and right here in our area.

Now, our nation's leaders are calling it a public health crisis that has reached epidemic proportions. It is getting so bad that it is getting attention from Hollywood to the halls of Congress. Even the president is getting aggressive in the fight.

Mike ''Mad Dog'' Bell dreamed of becoming a wrestling star. But repeated beatings in the ring led to pain and painkillers - a habit that resulted in his death at the age of 37.

His brother, Chris Bell, a filmmaker who was himself hooked on pain medication following hip surgery, decided to look into the pharmaceutical industry and the prescription drug craze in the United States.

"People start out, they get a knee injury or a back injury, and they take a painkiller and then have to take it more and more," he said. "What happens is tolerance gets in the way. You can end up needing up to 20 pills a day or more."

The pills become hard to get or become just too expensive. So people turn to the next best high - heroin.

And it is not just athletes. It is affecting all age groups and all types of families in all parts of the country.

Bell said the drugs may be legal, but it does not mean they are safe. He is hoping to change the way consumers use pain medication.

"Ask their doctor why they are taking a drug and why the doctor thinks that the person needs the drug because we have so many prescriptions in this country that are written and people just don't need the drug," said Bell.

He argues the U.S. government needs to do more.

"The solution is primarily training," said Karl Colder, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Agency's Washington Field Office.

He said it is a multi-pronged problem they are battling from all angles - from tracking down distributors, rogue pharmacists and doctors to educating the medical community in new ways.

"Doctors understanding pharmacists, understanding and helping us identify those that are abusing," said Colder.

Lawmakers are taking on the fight too. Maryland Congressman John Sarbanes (D) introduced legislation to give patients at risk of addiction, but who need painkillers, access to a co-prescription for naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of an overdose.

"If that person ends up in an overdose situation, naloxone is there, the family knows how to use it and administer it, and that can combat overdose and bring that person really back from the brink," said Sarbanes.

It is just one of several opioid-related bills on the table.

President Barack Obama is taking action too by proposing $1.1 billion in the next budget for drug treatment and prevention programs and law enforcement efforts.

"We got to have a very coordinated all hands on deck response to this," said Rep. Sarbanes.

"We only represent five percent of the entire world's population," said Bell. "We as Americans consume 75 percent of the world's prescription drugs."

Response to epidemic has been supported from both sides of the aisle. Sarbanes said it is one of the few issues that seem to be uniting Congress right now. In fact, several Republicans praised the president's idea to devote significant mandatory funding to fight the nation's addiction problem.

"Prescription Thugs" is available on iTunes, Amazon and select theaters.