13 Nov Prescription painkillers/opioids
[If you answered pot and prescription drugs to the quick quiz in the previous post, you were right.]
One of the largest categories of prescription medication abuse is painkillers, or opioids. The common brand names for these medications are Vicodin, Demerol, OxyContin, Percocet and Darvon. You may have also heard of morphine, codeine and hydrocodone.
Doctors prescribe opioids to manage pain after surgeries or when people have an injury. For people in pain, they are a much needed medication, despite the long list of possible negative side effects, and safe, if used as prescribed. However, if used improperly they can cause death. Opioids slow down breathing and, as such, if people consume too much their breathing can stop entirely causing death.
Used as prescribed, pain medications are helpful. But, tolerance (when people need more of the drug to receive the desired effects because their bodies have grown tolerant to it/used to it) can develop very quickly for these medications, causing people to crave more of the drug to feel the same relief. As a result, sometimes dependence/addiction can occur.
So sometimes, when people are prescribed these medications for pain, they do not want to give them up, even when they are no longer needed for pain management. This is how painkillers become dangerous: people keep taking them for no real reason other than they are addicted to the feeling associated with taking them.
Unfortunately, this can lead to death. Opioids slow breathing, so if too much is taken, death occurs. In fact, deaths from prescription opioid medications now outnumber overdose deaths from all other drugs (including cocaine and heroin) (Source: NIDA).
And here is where the slope becomes slippery: What is happening is that after people become addicted to the prescribed painkillers and then they are unable to convince their doctors for more, they turn to other sources of opioids because they are addicted. One such source is the illegal drug heroin. This pathway from prescription drug to illegal street drug is now so common that we have a national opioid drug crisis and as such, this site now has an entire post on heroin and the opioid epidemic. Please read it next.
Have you ever been prescribed a pain medication? If so, did you have any concerns about taking it?