31 Aug Opioids: the slippery slope
Opioids have been used for thousands of years to kill pain. Unfortunately, they have an equally long history with addiction. The morphine in opioids that kills pain can also produce feelings of euphoria (intense pleasure, well being) and that is the appeal of the street drug heroin. Heroin is one of the most dangerous illegal drugs as it is, simply, one of the most addictive drugs known. So addictive, that this nation now faces a national opioid crisis. Here is how this crisis developed….
Like in Harrison’s case above, doctors often prescribe opioids (not heroin) to help their patients manage pain. For people who have had surgery or are dealing with a terrible injury, pain medications play a significant role in recovery because they ease the pain. However, as noted above, opioids are very addictive, so much so that quite often patients who legitimately took opioids for pain kept taking the drugs long after their situation called for it. In Harrison’s case, if he stopped taking the Percocet he might find that the pain is gone without the drug.
Eventually, doctors will stop prescribing the pain medications (opioids) because their patients no longer need it for pain. But some patients become addicted and, without a legal prescription, they turn to illegal methods of obtaining any drug that contains morphine. Sometimes that is prescription medicines sold illegally or sometimes that is heroin. Heroin sold on the street is cheaper and sometimes more readily available than the prescription painkillers. For these reasons, it has now been declared as a large part of the national opioid crisis.
A complicating factor in the opioid crisis is that initially Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of Oxycontin (a partially synthetic pain killer), initially marketed the drug to doctors as rarely addictive but “Immediate release”—which made it desirable. Purdue Pharma was sued for their marketing practices but many feel that they played a major role in creating the Opioid Crisis. (Source: NPR)
(To read about yet another controversy concerning how the opioid crisis is being handled and who it is affecting, check out the Bonus YSS.)
Not all people who take prescribed medication become addicted. And the people who become addicted to prescribed drugs don’t start out saying, “I’m going to become addicted to painkillers.” Many things contribute to the process.
People can die from prescription drug overdose. But buying street drugs creates an added element of lethal danger. Street drugs are not controlled.
This means that you don’t know what you are getting from one batch to the next: it means that street drugs can have many different substances mixed into them that can be incredibly dangerous, even fatal.
The slippery slope also leads to a changed life: addicts develop mental illnesses that seriously impair their ability to work, have a family, and enjoy a meaningful life. Addicts often turn to a life of crime when they can no longer afford their “fix” of drugs. Mental illness and crime? Two things not often found on a bucket list.
Again, nobody wakes up one day and says, “I’m going to become a street junkie.” Especially when they have a solid income, great support system and make reasonably good decisions. But it does happen. A large majority of addicts are intelligent hard-working people who slipped on the slope of painkillers and addiction: it happens to many ordinary people who get sucked into the addiction cycle unknowingly. The point is, opioids are a slippery slope. What seems casual at first and completely logical (to take prescribed medications after an injury) can turn into a seriously debilitating (meaning disabling or harmful) situation. Be careful if you or anyone you know takes prescribed opioids/opiates and monitor the usage. You’ll read more about what to do later.
Were you aware that this nation faces an opioid crisis? If so, how?