By Tammy Strickling
Medical practitioners are writing millions of prescriptions for drugs such as Vicodin, Percocet and OxyContin, which contain compounds derived from opium—one of the world’s most powerful painkillers— in an effort to relieve Americans of pain after acuter injuries or operations.
These powerful opioids – the standard in pain treatment – are to blame for nearly 17,000 American deaths each year, as well as thousands more cases of addiction and overdose (1). Prescription painkillers often wreak havoc on personal lives by leading to unemployment, destroyed marriages and neglected children, and now cause more overdose deaths than cocaine and heroin combined (2).
All too often, dependency on prescription painkiller is not intentional. Many people begin using painkillers for legitimate reasons and are not aware they have become addicted until it is too late. Unscrupulous prescribing practices have contributed to the rise in painkiller addiction and subsequent overdoses, some say. Unbeknownst to many of the general public, prescription opioids act on the same brain receptors as heroin, and are extremely addictive (3). According to a survey conducted by the Institute of Addiction Medicine:
- More than two million Americans are opioid dependent;
- About 4.7 million teenagers and adults say they’ve used opioid prescription painkillers for non-medical purposes, and
- Around 32.7 million Americans report having used opioid prescription painkillers for nonmedical purposes at least once in their lives (4).
In addition to the high risk of addiction and overdose, prescription painkillers often contain acetaminophen. Accidental overdoses from using products that contain more than 325 milligrams of acetaminophen per dose contribute to nearly half of all cases of acetaminophen-related liver failure in the United States (5).
People generally have the mindset that prescription drugs are legal and, therefore, are harmless—but that just isn’t the case. The public needs to be educated in this regard, and prescribing doctors have an important and vital role in providing such education. Other health care professionals including addiction treatment can help doctors educate their patients so they pursue effective alternatives that can and do handle the source of the physical problem. SRC’s main goal is to help individuals who are struggling with addiction to return to a life of sobriety.
The solution: Instead of prescribing powerful painkillers, patients with either acute or chronic pain can be steered towards alternatives such as physical therapy, acupuncture, exercise and promoting healthy active life styles – all factors which can be used to correct the underlying problems that medications are prescribed to address. In addition to stricter prescribing practices, public education about the dangers of painkiller addiction would go a long way in curbing the instances of addiction and overdose.
Tammy Strickling is the CEO of Suncoast Rehab Center, a non-profit drug and alcohol rehabilitation organization. Tammy began her career in detox and rehabilitation after being inspired by her twin brother, who struggled with substance abuse and is now 20 years sober. Tammy has spent almost two decades helping save lives, reunite families and rebuild communities through her dedicated work in the field of rehabilitation. Recently, she has focused her attention not only on drug rehabilitation, but also education and prevention programs to address the growing drug abuse epidemic.
1. “The Doctors’ Dilemma: Treatment Is a Guessing Game.” Local.cincinnatti.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Dec. 2013. local.cincinnati.com/community/pages/pain2/index.html.
2. Friedman, L.M.S.W., Michael. “Better Pain Management Is Essential for Reducing Addiction to Prescription Painkillers.” Huffingtonpost.com. N.p., 16 Dec. 2013. Web. 23 Dec. 2013. huffingtonpost.com/michael-friedman-lmsw/prescription-pain-medicine-addiction_b_4408819.html.
3. Fuchs, Erin. “The Dark Side Of America’s Rush Into Prescription Drugs Has Never Been More Obvious.” Businessinsider.com. N.p., 17 Oct. 2013. Web. 23 Dec. 2013. businessinsider.com/why-america-has-a-prescription-drug-problem-2013-10
4. Fuscaldo, D., “Health Care Trends to Watch for in 2014” Fox Business, Dec. 24, 2013. Web. Jan. 16, 2014. foxbusiness.com/personal-finance/2013/12/24/health-trends-to-watch-for-in-2014/
5. “FDA Warns against High-dose Prescription Acetaminophen.” Usatoday.com. Gannett, 15 Jan. 2014. Web. 17 Jan. 2014. usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/01/15/fda-acetaminophen-warning/4489193/.