- Post surgical pain
- Chronic pain
- Around-the-clock pain management
- Breakthrough pain
- Maintenance for opiate-tolerant addicts
Most painkillers are considered to be opioids because they are synthetically derived. Opiate painkillers are naturally derived from the opium poppy plant, and include only morphine and codeine. All painkillers are legally available by prescription only, however illicit use and resulting addiction to these drugs is a growing trend in the United States, which is responsible for 80% of the world’s supply of painkiller consumption.
Painkillers come in many different forms, speeds of release, and strengths, but all work the same way on the human brain, and all are addictive and dangerous. Contrary to many who may take painkillers, they are no different from heroin in the ways they affect users, and with the explosion of painkillers as the subject of addiction in modern society, there is little argument to refute this claim. All painkillers are depressant drugs, meaning they have similarities in the ways they produce the following effects on users:
- Shallow or slowed breathing
- Decreased blood pressure
- Extreme euphoria
- Heavy or droopy eyelids
- Constricted or pinpoint pupils
- Slurred speech
- Slowed reaction time
Dangers of Painkiller Addiction
Narcotic painkillers have similar effects, and regardless of the specific painkiller an individual may take, there is an inherent risk associated with the abuse and misuse of these drugs. When painkillers are taken in excess, or with other depressant drugs, their effects can lead to fatal overdose, and for those who are addicted to them, the euphoria painkillers produce is worth the risk. Although it may seem that drugs this dangerous should be controlled in the strictest fashion, the illicit sale and distribution of prescription painkillers is wide, and becoming more out of control with each passing year. There are a number of reasons for this widespread availability, and they are:
- Pill Mills
Receiving the most attention in Florida, pill mills are widespread throughout the country, and they are health clinics, or doctors’ offices where individuals can obtain prescriptions for a variety of painkillers without a medical examination or justification of any kind. All that is required is cash for the exchange. Essentially, in pill mills, addicts find licensed doctors and physicians who double as drug dealers.
- Friends, Family, and Associates
Countless individuals obtain painkillers from the people closest to them, either with or without their knowledge. Many parents and grandparents of adolescents have been robbed by their young loved ones without their knowledge, and right out of their medicine cabinets. Additionally, many painkillers are passed between friends and associates in social settings, or as an exchange for other drugs or money.
- Doctor Shopping
Identified by obtaining prescriptions for painkillers from multiple doctors at once, doctor shopping is extremely common among those who abuse, and are addicted to painkillers. Since medical records are not shared between all medical professionals, one doctor does not have the resources to know if a new patient has seen another, and what prescriptions he or she may have obtained, especially if that individual is not using medical insurance. Sadly, this method of obtaining painkillers places otherwise upstanding doctors and physicians in a compromising position.
- Emergency Room Visits
Similar to the tactics employed in doctor shopping, individuals who are abusing or addicted to painkillers may make frequent visits to emergency rooms (usually during very busy days and times), complaining of pain. By doing this, they know that ER physicians are unlikely to have the time to research medical history (if there is access to it at all), and do a thorough examination to determine whether or not the pain is real. This is usually an addict’s best chance for painkillers from medical staff, if doctor shopping has not produced the desired results.
- Online Pharmacies
Available on the Internet for years, online pharmacies operate outside of the United States, and are a fast and anonymous way to purchase prescription painkillers without a prescription or medical justification of any kind. Generally distributing the generic form, online pharmacies require only an address and credit card. Most unfortunate is that a child can obtain painkillers in this manner, as there is no verification of age or identity sought for this process
- Street Level Dealers
As with any drug of addiction, dealers have seen their profit margins skyrocket with the explosion of painkiller addiction. Whereas an individual may pay a minimal amount of money for painkillers when done so through insurance, street dealers can easily earn up to 10 times that amount per pill, making painkillers more profitable than any other drug.
Signs of Painkiller Addiction
There are a number of signs of painkiller addiction, whether an individual is receiving these drugs through a prescription or from illegal means. Because all addiction includes growing tolerance, more of the drug becomes necessary to achieve the same level of euphoria and to avoid unpleasant and sometimes severe withdrawal symptoms. In an effort to satisfy addiction and avoid withdrawal, painkiller addicts will display some of the same behaviors as those addicted to other drugs. Some of these behaviors and signs can include, but are not limited to:
- Taking higher and more frequent doses than medically justified
- Taking prescription painkillers non-medically for any reason
- Administering painkillers in inappropriate ways (i.e.crushing and snorting, or dissolving and injecting)
- Taking a full supply of painkillers in a shorter time than indicated by the prescription
- Drug seeking behaviors such as doctor shopping, visiting pill mills, using online pharmacies, etc.
- Using other depressant drugs like benzodiazepines and alcohol with painkillers to enhance the effect
- Exhibiting withdrawal symptoms when not using painkillers
- Becoming irate or agitated when confronted about painkiller use
- Frequently intoxicated from painkiller use
- Continued use of painkillers, despite repeated negative consequences resulting from use, such as arrests, financial trouble, relationship issues, health issues, etc.
Get Help For Painkiller Addiction
Painkiller addiction is a growing problem in today’s society, and with more than 12 million Americans admitting non-medical use of painkillers in 2010, as reported by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the need for help has never been greater. The good news is that despite the dangers and devastation of painkiller abuse and addiction, treatment is available and it does work. Addiction treatment has been modified tremendously over the past decade to offer much more than a 12-step approach. Those suffering from addiction of all kinds can choose from treatment that is specific to age, gender, belief system, preference, lifestyle, and geographic location. Treatment modalities can include various options from acupuncture and meditation, to religious-based therapies and equine assisted therapy. Each of these options is intended to make treatment relatable for every addict, no matter what his or her preference and belief system.
While all of these options undoubtedly make addiction treatment much more effective, the task of deciding which way is best can be extremely daunting and time-consuming, and that is why we are here. At 24sober.com, we understand the challenges of living with addiction, and the additional pressure of choosing the right program for the needs of yourself, or your addicted loved one. If you, or someone you love are suffering from addiction, please call us now and speak with a trained counselor who can walk you through the options and weigh them against the needs, beliefs, and preferences of the individual in need. We are here to help guide you to the program that will best suit your needs for a lifetime of sustained recovery and sobriety.
Please continue to read more about the various prescription painkillers, their effects, and the dangers of addiction to them.
Types of Painkillers
Although opioid painkillers have been available since hydromorphone was first introduced after the 1924 ban on diacetylmorphine (heroin) by Congress, painkiller addiction did not become a serious social concern until early 2000 when OxyContin abuse and addiction became an epidemic in the mid-western parts of the United States. Commonly termed as “hillbilly heroin,” OxyContin is a powerful opioid that comes in a variety of strengths and remains among the most commonly abused painkillers in the country. OxyContin was originally produced in an extended-release form, containing large amounts of its active drug, oxycodone hydrochloride, but releasing small quantities over an extended period of time. To get around this, abusers of OxyContin frequently crush and snort, or dissolve and inject the drug for an administration of all of the oxycodone at one time.
OxyContin is available in 10, 15, 20, 30, 40, 60, and 80 mg tablets, and until a short time ago, all forms of this drug could be crushed and snorted, or dissolved in water, and injected. Recent regulations and changes have prompted OxyContin’s manufacturer to change the formulation of the tablets to make them much harder to snort or inject. While this change did decrease the abuse of OxyContin, several reports, including one from Washington University in St. Louis, have described a drastic spike in heroin use since the reformulation of OxyContin. While OxyContin has its legitimate uses for pain management, it has been at the forefront of painkiller addiction for over a decade, and continues to be the subject of countless addictions.
Vicodin is a combination of acetaminophen and hydrocodone, and comes in three strengths, 5, 7.5 and 10 mg. A new formulation of Vicodin has also been released, limiting the amount of acetaminophen in each tablet to 300 mg, as acetaminophen has been linked to severe liver disease and failure.
Vicodin is one of the most commonly prescribed painkillers in America, and is the combination of hydrocodone and acetaminophen. It is also marketed under popular brand names of Norco, Lorcet, and Lortab. Because it is a combination painkiller, Vicodin does not share the DEA Controlled Substance Scheduling of II, but rather falls under category III. This should not, in any way minimize the dangers of Vicodin abuse, as this opioid is very dangerous and can lead to fatal overdose, especially when combined with other depressant drugs, like benzodiazepines, other opioids or opiates, and/or alcohol.
Percocet is another combination opioid, containing acetaminophen and oxycodone hydrochloride (approximately 90% potency of oxycodone). Also intended to relieve moderate to severe pain, Percocet is widely prescribed to individuals suffering from post-surgical pain. Percocet is available in 2.5, 5, 7.5, and 10 mg strengths. The abuse potential of Percocet is extremely high, resulting mostly from the high effectiveness of oxycodone.
Dilaudid is hydromorphone and is among the most powerful narcotic painkillers on the market. Dilaudid is not intended for any individual who does not have an established tolerance to opioid pain medication, and is prescribed to treat moderate to severe pain. Dilaudid is available in 2, 4, and 8 mg strengths, and is typically fast-acting, reaching its peak effects in as little as 30 minutes to 1 hour.
Because Dilaudid is generally only prescribed to those who have an established history of opioid tolerance, it is not as commonly prescribed as Vicodin, Percocet, and OxyContin. However, the dangers of Dilaudid are vast when it is used non-medically by those who may not be opioid-tolerant, or using other depressant drugs with it.
Described as the most powerful synthetic opioid currently known to man, fentanyl is intended for breakthrough cancer related pain that is not controlled by other narcotic painkillers. Typically used with another painkiller than can manage around-the-clock pain, fentanyl can be highly effective in managing breakthrough pain symptoms. Fentanyl is available in buccal tablets, in lollipop form, or it can be administered medically through intravenous routes. Fentanyl has a short and immediate action, and is so potent, that is prescribed in micrograms rather than milligrams.
Although fentanyl is the most powerful of all narcotic opioids, it is still widely abused, and drug cartel have begun to take advantage of this epidemic by producing fentanyl in clandestine labs throughout South American countries for distribution in the United States.
Methadone is a synthetic opiate that is also among the strongest produced. For several decades, methadone has been the opioid of choice to treat heroin addiction. Despite its role of “treating” heroin addiction, the purpose of having heroin addicts take methadone was for maintenance, so they would be able to satisfy the opioid receptors in their brain, without abusing the drug, as it was always administered in clinics, where addicts were handed their dosage and observed while they ingested it. This was considered to be a success since methadone has a long-lasting effect, staying in the system for up to 36 hours.
However, after a while, professionals and addicts found that methadone was still being abused, especially by individuals who were able to obtain it in pill form via prescriptions picked up at pharmacies. With no supervision or monitored control, methadone was abused just as every other painkiller can be.