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Prescription Pain Killer Abuse at Crisis Level in U.S.

By Kathy Hubbard
A 49-year old teacher wrote to the forum on The Addiction Recovery Guide’s website. The woman was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and was prescribed oxycodone. She wrote that after a year of treatment she was in total remission, but said …
“I can’t stop the pain meds. Tomorrow I am telling my doc I want off. I am so scared because I now rely on them (the pills) for everything. I never thought it could happen to me. I am officially addicted. Admitting is the first step right? I’m totally scared, but I gotta do it!”
The Centers for Disease Control makes no bones about the fact that the U.S. is having an opioid painkiller abuse epidemic.
“Opioids (including prescription opioid pain relievers and heroin) killed more than 28,000 people in 2014, more than any year on record. (There aren’t statistics out for 2015 yet.) At least half of all opioid overdose deaths involve a prescription opioid.
“Deaths from prescription painkiller overdoses among women have increased more than 400 percent since 1999, compared to 265 percent among men,” the CDC says. “For every woman who dies of a prescription painkiller overdose, thirty go to the emergency department for painkiller misuse or abuse.”
The CDC also says that the amount of opioids sold in the U.S. has quadrupled, despite the fact that there hasn’t been a change in the amount of pain that Americans report.
Anyone who has had a painful injury or surgery knows the benefits of short-term use of an opioid pain reliever. But, the CDC cautions, these drugs come with serious risks particularly when taken long-term.
Even taking these meds as prescribed, even if there’s no risk of addiction or overdose, these drugs can have a number of side effects. They include becoming tolerant, meaning that you need to take more of the drug to get the same pain relief, and/or becoming physically dependent, which means that you’ll have symptoms of withdrawal when you stop taking them.
Other side effects are increased sensitivity to pain, constipation, nausea, vomiting and dry mouth. You may experience sleepiness and dizziness; confusion; depression; low levels of testosterone that can result in lower sex drive, energy and strength; and itching or sweating.
“Remember, your doctor is a partner in your pain treatment plan,” the CDC says. “It’s important to talk about any and all side effects and concerns to make sure you’re getting the safest and most effective care.”
The National Institute on Drug Abuse’s website says that the “risks for addiction to prescription drugs increase when they are used in ways other than as prescribed (e.g. at higher doses, by different routes of administration, or combined with alcohol or other drugs). Physicians, their patients, and pharmacists all can play a role in identifying and preventing prescription drug use.”
“By asking about all drugs, physicians can help their patients recognize that a problem exists, set recovery goals, and seek appropriate treatment. Screening for prescription drug abuse can be incorporated into routine medical visits. Doctors should also take note of rapid increases in the amount of medication needed or frequent, unscheduled refill requests,” The NIDA states.
“For their part, patients can take steps to ensure that they use prescription medications appropriately: always follow the prescribed directions, be aware of potential interactions with other drugs, never stop or change a dosing regimen without first discussing it with a healthcare provider, and never use another person’s prescription.”
As for pharmacists, NIDA says that their responsibility is to be watchful for any prescription falsifications or alterations. Often, the pharmacist can be the “first line of defense in recognizing drug abuse.”
Addiction to any drug is a brain disease, and, fortunately, can be treated effectively. “Treatment must take into account the type of drug used and the needs of the individual. Successful treatment may need to incorporate several components, including detoxification, counseling and sometimes the use of addiction medications,” NIDA says.
In a letter of encouragement to our teacher another woman wrote, “I’ll just say that I have yet to regret staying sober.” Amen.
Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at 264-4029 or kathyleehubbard@yahoo.com.

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