Painkillers are routinely the culprits behind thousands of deaths in the US every year. They are among the most abused drugs in the US where one in 10 high school students admit to taking drugs in one form or other.
Drug abuse or substance abuse as we know it causes many harmful effects which range from severe withdrawal symptoms to possibly death.
Painkillers are medications that are prescribed by doctors to relieve pain. They are usually prescribed to patients after surgery or when they are suffering from debilitating diseases like cancer. These medicines affect pain centers in the brain and reduce susceptibility to pain. The effects wear off after some time and the brain functions return to normal. Continued medicines are required when pain persists or is very intense.
1)Why Is There a Spike in Painkiller Abuse?
Up until the last couple of decades, painkillers were prescribed only in the most severe cases, usually for late-stage cancer, in post-surgical care and for patients suffering from severe physical trauma. But from early 2000’s onwards they have been prescribed for comparatively milder cases as well.
Multi-million dollar marketing campaigns have been unleashed by major pharmaceutical companies in the past decade and a half and they have considerably altered the approach of physicians towards pain management.
The popular public perception also is that pain needs to be controlled and removed.
Painkillers including powerful opiate analgesics are prescribed for muscular pain and other routine ailments which can be easily treated by less dangerous alternatives.
Many people who were prescribed opioid painkillers grew addicted to them. As of 2010, more than 8 million people in the US admit to prescription drug abuse. Of this about 5 million people are addicted to painkillers especially opioid variants.
According to the Government data, number of prescriptions for opioids has increased from 76 million in 1991 to 207 million in 2013.
Teens and youth increasingly find prescription drugs easy to get, perceive them as being safer and also find them more attractive due to comparatively lower prices than heroin and other illegal drugs.
2)What Are the Different Types of Painkillers?
There are different kinds of painkillers, a few mild and the others highly potent.
Some examples of widely abused opioid painkillers are given below.
a)Oxycodone – This drug has the same effect on the brain as heroin and is highly potent. It affects the neurotransmitters in the brain in the same way as heroin and distorts thinking. It alleviates pain and gives a feeling of euphoria because they control the release of dopamine in the brain.
It is sold under many brand names like Percodan, Percocet, OxyContin and Roxicet. They are also the most abused painkiller drugs due to the ease of availability and highly addictive action.
b)Hydrocodone- This is a chemical commonly found in pain killing medicines and comes in tablet, capsule and syrup forms. It is widely used as an effective method to combat pain, and is also abused as a prescription medication. Trade names include Norco, Lorcet, Endodan and Roxiprin.
c)Meperidine – Meperidine is known under the brand name Demerol and Hydromorphone is known as Dilaudid. These opiates can be injected, snorted or smoked by those who are addicted to them. Propoxyphene (Darvon) comes in capsule form and is considered highly potent. It is banned in the UK. Dilaudid is considered to be around 8 times more powerful than morphine and can muddy thinking and slow down respiratory function.
3)How to Treat Prescription Drug Abuse?
Though difficult, it is not impossible to treat addiction to prescription drugs and painkillers.
If you have been prescribed opioid painkillers by your physician, then keep an eye out on whether you show signs of physical dependence. Signs of drug dependence include the desire to continue the medication (even when the causative physical condition has improved), increase in dosage over time due to growing tolerance, social withdrawal, increased sensitivity and change in personality and appearance.
Your physician will be able to constructively intervene and wean you off drug dependency, provided he is alerted at the right time. You need to voice your concerns to the doctor and bring him into the picture as soon as possible. Alternatively you may also speak to someone you trust and ask him or her for help.
A point to be noted is that physicians, who actively manage pain in patients and prescribe painkillers, should also constantly monitor patients for drug tolerance and potential abuse.
4)What Are the Alternatives to Painkillers?
There are many alternatives to chemical painkillers and harmful opioid analgesics. Some of them like turmeric, Omega-3 rich fatty fish, garlic, grapes, horseradish and blueberries can be found right in your kitchen! Do you know that 8 glasses of water every day can actually cure your joint aches?
There are other safe OTC natural painkillers also that give you great results but without the harmful side effects of opiate painkillers.
Pain is something that we would all be happy to live without. But in a bid to alleviate it, do not push yourself into a lifetime of pain and misery. A little research and a proactive mindset are all that are required to get the safest and most natural remedies for alleviating pain.