Unbeknownst to people, pain medications prescribed by your doctor can be a gateway to drug addiction. Don’t get me wrong, pain pills are necessary in many situations, but chronic use can lead to a chronic problem. Opioids are medications that are used to treat pain. They can also be called narcotics. These include, fentanyl, hydrocodone (Vicodin), oxycodone (Percocet or OxyContin), morphine, methadone, and a wide range of other potent pain medications. While these medications can relieve pain, they also can cause a euphoric sensation, otherwise known as getting high, hence the reason these medications are overused in many cases.
Many people have gone to their doctor or an emergency department for various pain complaints, and often times they will be prescribed a narcotic pain medication. That is not necessarily a problem. It gets to be a problem when you have to keep taking these medications over a period of time that is more than a couple of weeks. You are more likely to become addicted to these medications with prolonged, regular use. The human body starts to crave these medications with repeated use and if you do try to stop taking these drugs after repetitive use, you develop withdrawal symptoms which can include runny nose, watery eyes, muscle twitching, sweating, diarrhea, and an increase in pain, which only furthers the desire to get more pain medications.
The overuse of narcotics can lead to multiple ways to attempt to receive the medications. Some people frequent emergency departments in search of these medications. Emergency departments are cluttered with people that may or may not have pain, but their ultimate goal is narcotic pain medication. Sometimes they will visit multiple emergency departments over the course of a month in the attempt to get prescriptions and in the hopes of not getting recognized for their attempts to get pain medications. Some physicians try not to feed into this behavior, while some will just write prescriptions for them in an attempt to get them to leave and allow them to move on to the next patient. Some of these people will get belligerent if they do not get what they want and they will even try to complain to hospital administration, feeling that they have been treated unfairly.
The situation has gotten so bad that people start looking for these medications from drug dealers as they have street value. Heroin abuse is often tied to narcotic pain medication abuse as they are derivatives of the same compound. If heroin abusers cannot get heroin, they will try to get narcotics to simulate that high. It can be just the opposite with chronic narcotic abuse. Eventually the body does not get the same high from the pills and then people begin seeking out stronger drugs, which can lead to the use of heroin. Narcotic abuse and heroin addiction has gotten so common that physicians are now allowed to prescribe the antidote to the overdose of these drugs. The number of drug overdose deaths has reached an all-time high, and the majority involve opioids. From 1993 to 2013, the amount of prescription opioids dispensed has quadrupled.
Prescription opioid use is more common in older adults, age 40 and over. Women are more likely to use prescription narcotics than men. Caucasians are more likely to use than Hispanics, but there is not much difference in the use between Caucasians and African-Americans. This problem reaches all communities, as suburban neighborhoods and middle class families are having to deal with this problem. It is not a low-income problem.
Kids use these medications for fun also. They can get them from stealing their parents or grandparents medications, get them from other kids, or they can buy them from drug dealers. This has become such a problem that I remember seeing on television young children around 10 and 11 being taught how to administer the antidote to a teddy bear in the event one of their friends or family members are found to be overdosing on opioids.
Pain related complaints or the tolerance of the body to narcotic medication is such a problem that there are pain clinics that people can get into that will allow patients to get chronic doses of pain medications as an attempt to prevent primary doctors and emergency departments from having to address these complaint. A multitude of services are provided at these clinics, including alternative therapies to narcotics. However if narcotic medication is prescribed, patients typically have to sign pain contracts and they get drug tested to ensure there are no other illicit substances on board. If these clinics find that you are getting other narcotic prescriptions from places other than the pain clinic or overusing the prescriptions that they write, they will discharge those patients from their practice.
The topic of opioid abuse is so multifaceted that I could write a book on it, but the take home message is, prescription narcotics are becoming a major problem. If possible, you should attempt to treat pain with other means such as anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) or Naprosyn (Aleve). I would even try acupuncture prior to getting pain medications as it could lead to a slippery slope to abuse. If you are prescribed pain medications, try to use them sparingly as an attempt to keep the body from developing a desire for these medications. As always, you should never take anyone else’s prescribed medications, especially pain medications as the side effects can be deadly.
Disclaimer: Although I am a qualified, board certified, emergency physician, the information on this site is not meant in lieu of the advice of your own primary care provider. LovelyeSpirit, nor I, are responsible for any damage, injury, death, or disease process that may arise as a result of the information obtained from this article. Do not use any information obtained here as a way to diagnose or treat yourself. This information is meant to help the general public be more aware of medical processes and to try to promote overall better health. I am also not representing the hospital system I work for, nor the emergency medicine group I am employed with.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Increase in Drug and Opioid Deaths- United States, 2000-2014 (http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm64e1218a1.htm?s cid=mm64e1218a1 e). MMWR 2015; 64;1-5
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (http://cdc.gov/)