The Link Between Prescriptions and Opioids: What Studies Have Shown
The link between prescriptions and opioids is a natural area to explore given that so many people have reported that they believe their addiction started only after a doctor prescribed medication for pain. By no means does that suggest that doctors are to blame and only in rare cases have some disreputable doctors been found to be complicit. Most reasonable people would agree that the responsibility for one’s addiction rests almosts entirely on the addict, but that’s not to say there were outside influences.
Examining the Link Between Prescription Drugs and The Opioid Epidemic
Nearly half of young people who inject heroin start by misusing prescription (Rx) pain medicine which are opioids. Explore this interactive infographic to better understand and get a more complete picture. Nearly half of young people who inject heroin start by misusing prescription (Rx) pain medicine. These are commonly known as opioids. Some teens start by misusing it with friends because they’re curious, to self-medicate or because they think it will make them feel good. Others start taking it legitimately when prescribed by a doctor after an injury or medical procedure. But in some cases, legitimate use turns to dependence, misuse, addiction and then heroin use. Tragically, many overdose fatalities are now being driven by heroin laced with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, or similar compounds which are even more powerful and deadly. As you’ll see in the infographic, there’s a clear link between prescriptions and opioids. The New England Journal of Medicine published a disturbing study in 2016: In 2014, a total of 10.3 million persons reported using prescription opioids nonmedically (i.e., using medications that were not prescribed for them or were taken only for the experience or feeling that they caused).2 Emergency department visits involving misuse or abuse of prescription opioids increased 153% between 2004 and 2011, and admissions to substance-abuse treatment programs linked to prescription opioids more than quadrupled between 2002 and 2012.3,4 Most troubling, between 2000 and 2014 the rates of death from prescription-opioid overdose nearly quadrupled (from 1.5 to 5.9 deaths per 100,000 persons) With the link between prescriptions and opioids now clearly evident, the question in the medical community has been how to effectively reduce the likeliness of this occurring.
So What Are Opioids?
Opioids – natural or synthetic, illicit or otherwise – act on the body’s opioid receptors and all carry similarly high risks of dependency, addiction and overdose. Heroin is the most commonly known opioid, and as an illicit drug, it poses serious additional risks beyond simply being a powerful drug. Morphine, too, is well-known for its use in medical contexts. Heroin is pharmacologically similar to prescription opioids. All these drugs produce their action through endogenous opioid systems that regulate a wide range of functions through three major types of G-protein–coupled receptors: mu, delta, and kappa, with particularly potent agonist activity at the mu receptor and weak activity at the delta and kappa receptors. But opioids also include common prescription pain relievers, such as OxyContin, Percocet and Vicodin. If misused or abused, these drugs can cause severe harm. Complicating the landscape even more is fentanyl and other synthetic opioids. These can be used on their own or be unknowingly mixed into heroin or pills. Deaths from fentanyl and other synthetic opioids rose 72% in just one year. A prescription for pain medicine is seemingly innocent, but when you study the link between prescriptions and opioids, it’s clear that use of the drugs must be closely monitored. For children who live at home, the parents have a great deal of responsibility. They must monitor their children and when the child is asking for more pain medicine (refills) despite the doctor’s recommendations, the parent needs to consider other forms of pain relief, such as Ibuprofen. That’s not to say that patients in legitimate pain from an injury won’t have enduring pain, but there are other forms of pain management besides opioids. For injuries, there are many forms of alternative pain management and many of our residents have tried them with great success. Chiropractic therapy has done wonders for our residents who suffered from spine issues or sports related issues. Massage therapy has proven useful and so has heat or cold therapy to affected areas. The point is that a holisitc approach to pain management is helpful not only in easing pain, but in preventing the dnager of an addiction to opioids.
What Happens When Someone is Addicted to Opioids?
Opioids have a strong risk of addiction, meaning their use or misuse can create brain changes that lead to addiction. A person who is addicted develops an overpowering urge, or craving, for the drug. The person also experiences a loss of control and painful withdrawal symptoms, making it more difficult to refuse the drug, even when use becomes harmful. Most people who are addicted to opioids cannot taper off (use less of the drug over time) without help. As they descend into despair, only higher doses and more frequent use of opioids seem to appease them. At this point, they’re addicted and suprisingly, addiction can occur in just 2-3 weeks. By this time, receptors in the brain have begun to change and resisting the urges will become nearly impossible. It’s at this point that the family needs to intervene. This discussion can start in front of a doctor as you look for alternative pain management solutions. If they’re no longer in real pain but they’re “afraid of the pain” coming back, it’s time for more comprehensive help. Catching a person in the early stages of addiction increases the chance of a quick recovery. Waiting until the addict has started to suffer life consequences – DUI, loss of job, failed personal relationships – will require lengthier treatment and a greater, but necessary disruption in their life.
If you or someone you know is suffering from addiction, contact us now for a free evalution.