'Prescription Thugs': New documentary looks at America's legal drug abuse problem

The United States makes up about 5 percent of the world’s population, yet consumes more than 75 percent of the world’s prescription drugs, according to the 2011 UN World Drug Report.

It’s a sobering statistic that’s highlighted in the new documentary “Prescription Thugs,” which takes an intimate look at what many addiction experts agree is the worst epidemic in America today.

“The subject kind of picked me. My older brother died from a prescription drug, basically, an overdose – his body gave out from all the prescription drugs he was doing,” director Chris Bell told FoxNews.com’s Dr. Manny Alvarez. “I wanted to find some answers why that happened to him.”

In the follow-up to his last documentary, “Bigger, Stronger, Faster,” which examined the role of anabolic steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs in sports and the lengths some athletes will go to in order to reach their dreams, Bell takes viewers inside the world of prescription drug abuse through the stories of several addicts from all walks of life. There’s the Michigan mother of four who started taking her daughter’s Adderall prescription; the 16-year-old student who got hooked on pain pills after having surgery; former athletes who admit to taking dangerous cocktails of painkillers, tranquilizers, sexual dysfunction medications and supplements; and the suburban father who almost lost it all.

In a surprising twist, Bell reveals his own struggles with prescription painkiller addiction in the film.

“I was never an addict, I was never addicted to anything – I was always somebody who was into sports – I was a power lifter … I was excited to go to the gym every day,” Bell said. “But once I was hurt, and on these painkillers, everything started going slowly in reverse.”

By the time he finally sought help, Bell was taking up to 20 to 30 pain pills per day.

“It’s something that you have to come to terms with yourself, it’s something that you have to want to quit and want to get off of,” Bell said. “It’s tough, it’s a disease where it’s a behavior problem … it’s a brain chemistry problem … and the only way to fix it is to work on those behaviors and sort of modify those behaviors.”

A national epidemic

The most abused prescription drugs fall under three categories: painkillers, tranquilizers and stimulants. In 2010, enough prescription painkillers were prescribed to medicate every American adult every four hours for a month, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

“I think the biggest eye-opener was I always thought that like prescription drugs … were in the business of health and healing, and they wanted to get you better,” said Bell. “And I just realized that … people benefit and there’s a lot of money being made off of keeping people on drugs.”

It’s no secret the pharmaceutical industry rakes in billions of dollars producing drugs to treat symptoms and manage medical conditions. In fact, over the past decade, the Big Pharma raked in $711 billion. And in 2013, Bell points out, the industry spent upwards of $422,000 per United States Congressman to lobby their causes.

Pharmaceutical executives and government officials Bell appealed to for his documentary denied his requests for interviews.

And while he doesn’t deny that the pharmaceutical industry is also responsible for many life-saving drugs on the market, Bell said he hopes his film will inspire people to be their own advocate when it comes to their health.

“This isn’t a movie that’s there to condemn the pharmaceutical industry or say ‘If you get sick, don’t go to the doctor,’” he said. “I think [people] should go in and ask their doctor not what drug is right for them, but go in and ask their doctor why the doctor had put them on this specific drug.”

We’re just taking too many pills, and we have to be careful, he added.

For more information, visit PrescriptionThugs.com.