Prescription drugs now kill more people in the US than accidents, which reflect a troubling rise in America’s addiction to opiate pain medications. Prescription painkillers refers to opioid or narcotic pain relievers, including drugs such as Vicodin (hydrocodone), OxyContin (oxycodone), Opana (oxymorphone), and methadone.
Opioid sales in the USA increased sevenfold from 1997 to 2010 from morphine equivalents of 96 mg per person to 710 mg per person. In the 10-year period from 1997 to 2007, hydrocodone sales jumped 280%, methadone jumped 1293% and oxycodone jumped 866% in the USA. According to an analysis of prescribing data from US retail pharmacies, healthcare providers wrote 259 million prescriptions in 2012 for opioid or narcotic analgesics, or enough for every adult in the United States to have 1 bottle of pills. Enough prescription painkillers were prescribed in 2010 to medicate every American adult around-the-clock for a month. In other words, enough opioids are sold so that 15 mg of hydrocodone can be administered every day to every American adult for 47 consecutive days.
Pain Killers are Killing Americans
Deaths from prescription painkillers have reached epidemic levels in the past decade. The number of deaths in the US related to prescription drugs is alarming. In 2008, 36,450 deaths were credited to a drug overdose.
Opioid pain killers caused more overdose deaths in 2007 than heroin and cocaine combined. Each day, 46 people die from an overdose of prescription painkillers in the US. Nearly 15,000 people die every year of overdoses involving prescription painkillers. Nearly half a million emergency department visits in 2009 were due to people misusing or abusing prescription painkillers.
How to Score
Seven in 10 people got their prescription painkillers from a friend or relative, whereas nearly 10% bought them from a friend or relative, and five percent took them from these people without asking. Teens and young adults abuse prescription drugs more than any other illicit drug, except marijuana. According to the United State Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), one in seven teenagers admits to abusing prescription drugs for non-medical purposes, and 60% of the teens who abused prescription pain pills experimented before the age of 15.
How do opioids affect the brain and body?
Opioids act by attaching to specific proteins called opioid receptors, which are found in the brain, spinal cord, gastrointestinal tract, and other organs in the body. When these drugs attach to their receptors, they reduce the perception of pain. Opioids can also produce drowsiness, mental confusion, nausea, constipation, and, depending upon the amount of drug taken, can reduce respiration. Some people experience a euphoric response to opioid medications, since these drugs also affect the brain regions involved in reward. Those who abuse opioids may seek to intensify their experience by taking the drug in ways other than those prescribed. For example, OxyContin is an oral medication used to treat moderate to severe pain through slow, steady release of the opioid. People who abuse OxyContin may snort or it, thereby increasing their risk for serious medical complications, including overdose.
Taken as prescribed, opioids can be used to manage pain safely and effectively. However, when abused, even a single large dose can cause severe respiratory depression and death. Withdrawal symptoms may occur if drug use is suddenly reduced or stopped. These symptoms can include restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea, vomiting, cold flashes with goose bumps (“cold turkey”), and involuntary leg movements. Generally speaking, re-introducing opioids can take care of withdrawal symptoms but also continues the cycle of addiction. Typically, opioid pain killers should not be used with other substances that depress the CNS, such as alcohol, antihistamines, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, or general anesthetics, because these combinations increase the risk of life-threatening respiratory depression.
Road to Heroin?
People often assume prescription pain relievers are safer than illicit drugs because they are medically prescribed; however, when these drugs are taken for reasons or in ways or amounts not intended by a doctor, or taken by some- one other than the person for whom they are prescribed, they can result in severe adverse health effects including addiction, overdose, and death, especially when combined with other drugs or alcohol. Research now suggests that abuse of these medications may actually open the door to heroin use. Nearly half of young people who inject heroin surveyed in three recent studies reported abusing prescription opioids before starting to use heroin. Some individuals reported switching to heroin because it is cheaper and easier to obtain than prescription opioids.
Like many other chronic diseases, addiction can be treated. Medications are now available to treat opioid or heroin addiction while reducing drug cravings and withdrawal symptoms, improving the odds of achieving abstinence. There are now a variety of medications that can be tailored to a person’s recovery needs while taking into account co-occurring health conditions. Medication combined with behavioral therapy is particularly effective, offering hope to individuals who suffer from addiction and for those around them.
We use an integrated approach to treat opioid or heroin addiction while reducing drug cravings and withdrawal symptoms, improving the odds of achieving abstinence. There are now a variety of medications that can be tailored to a person’s recovery needs while taking into account co-occurring health conditions. Medication combined with behavioral therapy is particularly effective, offering hope to individuals who suffer from addiction and for those around them. with a system of medical professionals, psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, and advocates to treat the whole person, not only the addiction.
Much of the data and content from this article lifted straight from
CDC (Centers of Disease Control) and NIDA (National Institute of Drugs and Abuse).
By Arturo C. Taca, Jr., MD
Diplomate-American Board of Addiction Medicine
Diplomate-American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology
Medical Director- INSynergy
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