America is currently facing a serious drug epidemic. The drug in question is involved in more accidental overdose deaths than cocaine and heroin combined.

It's not "bath salts"... crystal meth... or some kind of dangerous "designer" high. In fact, you probably have a bottle of this drug behind your bathroom mirror.

The sad story of America's painkiller addiction all began with Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of the prescription narcotic OxyContin. Doctors started prescribing it left and right, and sales brought in billions of dollars.

One dose of OxyContin (a chemical cousin of heroin) does offer relief from pain, but its effects diminish the more the patient uses it. Worse, if a patient becomes addicted, which happens quite easily, and they don't continue to take the drug, they suffer from excruciating symptoms of withdrawal, including an intense desire for more OxyContin.

Opioids like fentanyl, Actiq, and Zydone are also not abuse-deterrent. Additionally, newborn children from addicted mothers are at a very high risk of being addicted themselves.

This addiction problem has led the government to step in and demand that more alternatives become available to patients. President Obama has just signed into law a bipartisan bill aimed at halting opiate painkiller addiction.

From an investment point of view, non-opiate painkillers currently present excellent investing opportunities.

But beyond fiscal metrics, there's a grave necessity for a painkiller that carries the same positive impacts of drugs such as Percocet, OxyContin, or morphine -- but without the damaging effects.

Experts say that about 100 million people in the United States alone are in dire need of better treatments for chronic pain. And prescription pain medicines are a $57 billion global market as per IMS Health records. A whole range of patients are prescribed these drugs: cancer victims, people with chronic back pain, folks recuperating from surgery, etc. That's a lot of people who could benefit from alternative pain therapies -- as well as a lot of profits for investors.

All we need is a viable product.

The pharma industry has struggled to come up with any real alternatives. As many as 33 experimental medicines for chronic pain went into clinical trials from 2009 to 2015.

Each one of them failed.

However, we're beginning to see some real progress being made.

Biotech startups like Cara Therapeutics (CARA - Get Report) and Nektar Therapeutics (NKTR - Get Report) are striving to find a solution.

Heron Therapeutics (HRTX) is targeting post-operative pain. Even pharmaceutical giants including Pfizer (PFE - Get Report) and Biogen (BIIB - Get Report) are looking for a fresh way to address the problem.

Last year, Eli Lilly (LLY - Get Report) resumed late-stage trials of a non-opioid medicine for arthritic pain (interestingly, companies like Centrexion Therapeutics think chili peppers could free us from opioids).

In addition, a tiny biotech called PixarBio is rolling out a non-opioid, non-addictive therapy that kills pain with the strength of morphine. It's called NeuroRelease, and it's making this small company (which is still private) a prime takeover candidate.

America's opioid addiction isn't going to be cured overnight. However, these companies are all great long-term opportunities for investors to consider. Remember, that's a $57 billion market waiting to be tapped into.

That could make investors some profits that are easy to get hooked on...without any nasty side effects.

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This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.