Painkiller addiction has been a growing epidemic in the United States for the last decade, and the trend continues to increase with each passing year. Painkiller addiction refers to narcotic painkillers, such as OxyContin, Percocet, Vicodin, Fentanyl, Methadone, and Dilaudid, all of which are only legally available via prescription for legitimate pain issues.
Effects Of Painkillers
Painkillers, or opiods have analgesic effects in users, and are prescribed for pain management because they dull the brain’s perception of pain. Along with their analgesic effects, are several other side effects of painkillers, which include:
- Extreme euphoria
- Slowed heart rate
- Decreased blood pressure
- Constricted (pinpoint) pupils
- Nausea and vomiting
- Muscle relaxation
- Lack of coordination
- Slurred speech
- Intermittent periods of awake and asleep (nodding off)
Painkillers are depressant drugs, and when taken in excess, can cause respiratory failure and possible death. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), more people died in 2011 from painkiller overdoses than all other drugs combined, including heroin and cocaine.
Although painkillers are effective when taken for legitimate medical purposes, tolerance and dependence can develop if they are taken over an extended period of time. In as little as one to two weeks, tolerance can begin to grow, which results in needing higher and/or more frequent doses of painkillers to achieve the same levels of analgesia. Increased tolerance is not necessarily a sign of painkiller addiction, but it can be very dangerous because of the need for more of the drugs. For this reason, painkillers are not generally recommended for long-term use in those who do not suffer from chronic pain.
Another effect of taking painkillers for an extended period of time is physical dependence, which results in painful and uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms when painkiller use is drastically reduced or abruptly stopped. Although withdrawal symptoms are not life threatening, they can range from moderate to severe. Some of the withdrawal symptoms from painkillers include:
- High fever
- Muscle pain and spasms
- Abdominal pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Cold sweats
- Intense cravings
Many individuals who take painkillers continuously for several weeks are likely to develop a physical dependence, and may require a medical detox or gradual tapering off of the drugs.
Painkiller addiction can develop in several different ways, whether and individual started with a legitimate prescription or using painkillers as recreational. The euphoric effects of these drugs is what first entices repeated use, and once use of painkillers has continued to increase for non-medical purposes, addiction is very likely to develop. Although painkillers are only legally available by prescription, there are several different ways for addicts to continue to use, without having a legitimate prescription.
One of the most common methods for painkiller addicts to continue to supply their habit is through medical doctors and physicians who are willing to write prescriptions in exchange for money, or more business. Hundreds of doctors in the United States have been charged and prosecuted for prescribing outside medical treatment principles. This practice is what takes place in pill mills, which may be a solo practitioner or an entire medical clinic of multiple doctors. Unfortunately, many addicts have found very little difficulty in getting prescriptions for narcotic painkillers from licensed doctors with no medical justification or a clear substance abuse problem, both of which are crimes committed by the prescribing doctors. It is the responsibility of doctors and physicians to examine their patients to establish a medical need for painkillers, and check to be sure the individual does not exhibit signs of substance abuse problems, which can include:
- Frequent claims of lost prescriptions
- Using a 30-day supply in half the time
- Requests for stronger painkillers than a diagnoses condition justifies
- Approaching the acquisition of painkiller prescriptions with extreme urgency
All of these signs are clear indicators of substance abuse problems that doctors should be able to recognize and use to gauge whether or not they can ethically and legally prescribe more painkillers to an individual.
Unlike using immoral doctors, doctor shopping is taking advantage of the fact that most doctors in various practices cannot access medical records of an individual who has never seen them before. Especially when medical insurance is not used, there is almost no way for a doctor to know the history of any patient unless he or she demands previous medical records prior to treatment. Since most doctors do not require medical records, painkiller addicts can see multiple doctors with the same complaints of pain, resulting in several prescriptions for painkillers. Most often, addicts will take each prescription to different pharmacies in order to avoid suspicion from the pharmacist.
Many overseas countries do not have the same strict drug laws and guidelines as the United States, and have found a way to capitalize on the painkiller addiction epidemic in the US. Online pharmacies carry drugs of all kinds, from painkillers to tranquilizers, and erectile dysfunction medication. Without a prescription, medical note, age verification, or any other form of restriction, addicts can order massive amounts of painkillers online with no more than a mailing address and a credit card. This is a particularly dangerous thing to do, as many of these online pharmacies are free to add adulterants to the drugs they sell, making them potentially deadly if an individual takes them, thinking they have the exact same formulation as what is distributed in the United States. Additionally, the new abuse-resistant formulation of OxyContin that has replaced the crush-able form is not the standard overseas, and those who abuse OxyContin still have access to the crush-able form for snorting and injecting the drug.
Street Level Dealers
Like overseas pharmacies, drug dealers have also capitalized on the growing painkiller addiction problem in the United States. Many of these dealers get painkillers from a number of sources such as:
- Individuals who have legitimate prescriptions who sell painkillers to dealers
- Online pharmacies
- Pill mills
- Pharmacy robbery
- Prescription fraud
Many drug dealers see a larger profit from selling painkillers than they do from illicit drugs like heroin and cocaine. OxyContin can sell on the street for up to 10 times the price at pharmacies, making it so a 30-day supply of painkillers becomes very expensive on the streets, whereas through a pharmacy the cost would be negligible.
Signs Of Painkiller Addiction
Painkiller addiction is just like any other addiction, and individuals who are addicted exhibit certain behaviors and patterns of thought that can indicate a cause for concern. Addiction changes the way an individual is motivated in life, and what his or her priorities are. When addicted to painkillers, an individual’s entire life revolves around getting and using painkillers, ensuring he or she has enough to avoid withdrawal, and more to get high. The following list outlines the various signs and behaviors of painkiller addiction.
|Increased isolation from loved ones||Using painkillers non-medically||Using painkillers in unintended ways (i.e. crushing and snorting or injecting)|
|Theft or fraud to get money for more painkillers||Sexual favors and/or prostitution to maintain painkiller addiction||Failure to fulfill responsibilities at home, work, school, and with friends and family|
|Using painkillers to dull emotional pain||Change in friends and/or associates||Poor physical hygiene|
|Legal problems resulting from painkiller abuse||Troubled or broken relationships resulting from painkiller addiction||Frequent or prolonged absences from activities to get and use painkillers|
|Using other drugs like heroin, benzodiazepines and alcohol to enhance the effects of painkillers||Financial troubles as a result of spending all available funds on painkillers||Frequently appearing intoxicated from painkiller abuse|
|Increased need for privacy (locking doors)||Loss of interest in once enjoyable things and people||Discovery of paraphernalia like needles, spoons, excessive lighters, aluminum foil, etc.|
The signs of painkiller addiction can be subtle at first, especially if it develops from a legitimate medical purpose. Over time, addiction will always show itself in one way or another. Drug addiction is characterized by continued use of a substance despite repeated negative consequences. Painkiller addiction can be unique in the fact that painkillers are medically accepted drugs, and legal when taken in that manner. However, because they are so addictive and dangerous, painkillers can lead to addiction and quickly send an individual’s life spiraling out of control. Some of the most damaging consequences of painkiller addiction include:
- Criminal charges for painkiller related crimes like prescription fraud, theft, DUI, prostitution to get money for painkillers, and illegal possession or distribution
- Overdose and death, most often caused by taking too many painkillers at once, or using painkillers with other depressant drugs like heroin, alcohol, and/or benzodiazepines
- Loss of loved ones over painkiller addiction when addicts are willing to be exiled from family functions and gatherings in order to continue their addiction in solitude
- Disease resulting from risky sexual behavior or using dirty or shared needles to use painkillers
- Personal injury and/or property damage resulting from engaging in dangerous activities while under the influence of painkillers
No matter what the consequence, painkiller addiction is a serious and dangerous condition that is progressive and can only be treated, as there is no cure for addiction.
Treatment For Painkiller Addiction
Although addictions of all kind have no cure, all can be treated and life can be managed with continued sobriety, health and happiness. Millions of people have found their path to recovery from addiction, and it must always begin with an admission from the addict that life is out of control and he or she needs help. This can be very difficult for addicts to do for a number of reasons, most of which are rooted in fear. Addicts may be fearful of
- Seeing life through sober eyes
- Withdrawal symptoms
Regardless of the source of their fear, the only way for addicts to get the help they need is to make enough of this initial admission to accept entering into a drug rehabilitation program.
In drug rehab, addicts can understand the causes and contributing factors to addiction, as well as learn about how to recognize dangerous people, places, and things that can easily jeopardize sobriety. The tools and skills acquired in rehab are intended to empower addicts to keep themselves sober and avoid relapse with the help of supportive individuals and groups.
If you, or someone you love is struggling with painkiller addiction, and in need of help, please call us now at 1 (866) 445-4137 to find out about the various treatment options, based on personal needs, preferences, and belief systems. At RehabilitationHQ, we understand the difficulty of painkiller addiction, and we also know that drug rehab works. We will work with you to save time on searching aimlessly, and help you narrow down the best rehab options for yourself or your addicted loved one. Painkiller addiction can be treated, and you don’t have to suffer alone. Please call us now to find your personal path to recovery and health. We are here to help.