From Prescription Opioids to Heroin: the problem with over prescribing painkillers

From Prescription Opioids to Heroin: the problem with over prescribing painkillers
January 02 12:42 2018 Print This Article

Opioids are not evil. They can be a very effective treatment for pain in the short term, and untreated pain can cause a host of mental and physical health problems if left untreated. However, prescription opioids are easily addictive, and cause a range of risky side-effects with long term use. In addition, opioids become decreasingly effective over time, partly due to the tolerance that users build up to these drugs, and partly because opioids can actually increase your sensitivity to pain over time.

Using opioid painkillers for 30 days or longer will increase your risk of dependence, causing your brain and body to adapt to the drug’s presence in your system, altering their functioning and chemistry in ways that put your health and wellbeing at risk, and cause an awful withdrawal experience if you quit or cut down.

Despite the considerable downside to prescription opioids, these medications are still widely prescribed—over prescribed, in fact. This problem is contributing greatly to the opioid epidemic. In some states, such as Alabama and Mississippi, overprescribing has gotten so out of hand, that there are enough opioid painkiller prescriptions going around for every state resident to have some of their own. Not only are these drugs prescribed too often, they are frequently prescribed in larger amounts than necessary. Patients are given a higher number of pills, “just in case” they experience more pain than expected. As a result, too many people have bottles of extra pain pills around the house, where they can be available for later misuse.

Painkiller misuse is becoming a national crisis for Americans, and having “extra” pills around only makes the problem worse. Forty-one percent of Americans who report misusing painkillers obtained the medication from friends or family. This practice is illegal, and dangerous, and promotes dependence and addiction. Approximately 1.9 million Americans are dependent on or addicted to prescription opioids. Although some of these people start off using these pills recreationally, 41% of people who misuse prescription opioids take the drug to relieve physical pain, unaware that they are most likely making their problem worse.

Prescription opioid painkillers are responsible for nearly half of all opioid overdose fatalities in the United States. Over 15,000 Americans died from prescription opioid overdose in 2015, and the problem has even led to a decrease in life expectancy for U.S. adults. Prescription painkiller addiction is also contributing to a rise in heroin use. Even doctors who liberally prescribe opioid painkillers will not keep prescribing them indefinitely, or to a patient who is clearly misusing their prescription. Patients who have been cut off from a legal way of obtaining opioids, and who turn to illicit means of purchasing their drug of choice, will soon discover that these pills are expensive and very difficult to obtain illegally. Heroin, on the other hand, is cheaper and easier to find—and highly dangerous. Heroin overdose rates are skyrocketing, increasing by 286% between 2002 and 2015.

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David Schantz
David Schantz

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