La Hacienda's Treatment and Recovery Blog

Prescription Painkiller Abuse

Addiction, Recovery, Abuse, History, La Hacienda Treatment Center
Many modern prescription painkillers belong to a class of drugs known as opioids. Opioids, also referred to as opiates or narcotics, are a form of painkiller derived from opium. Medications derived from opiates are typically prescribed to treat severe pain, but as a side-effect, opioids also make people ‘feel good.’ This feeling of euphoria can initially be psychologically addictive for the simple reason that humans are pleasure-seeking organisms by nature, but long-term use of prescription painkillers can be dangerous and even fatal in some extreme cases.

Serving to inhibit pain messages sent to the brain, prolonged opioid use eventually causes nerve damage, causing the body to stop producing natural endorphins. With the body unable to stop its own pain, another source is needed, thus opiate dependence can occur. Due to the highly addictive qualities of this drug class, a person can develop a tolerance for opioid prescription painkillers over time, and higher doses are needed to achieve the same effect.

Since prescription medications are legal to whom they are prescribed, the symptoms of prescription drug abuse or addiction are sometimes disregarded or overlooked because the initial reason for a person taking such medication was intense and legitimate pain. Prescription pain medication is also one of the most accessible types of drugs, often lurking in the medicine cabinets of parents, grandparents, friends, or family, and some become addicted to medication prescribed to others. Narcotics such as Hydrocodone, Oxycodone, Percodan, and others are also sold and traded on the street illegally at sky-high prices.

Painkillers have existed for millennia. Opium is derived from poppy, and its cultivation dates to prehistoric times. Its active ingredient is morphine, which was first extracted in its pure form by German pharmacist Friedrich Sertürner in 1805 and named for the Greek god of dreams, Morpheus. This drug, when combined with the later discovery of the hypodermic syringe, was used to treat injured soldiers during both the American Civil War and Franco-Prussian War.

Two natural products that can be extracted from opium are morphine and codeine, but numerous synthetic opiates have appeared over time. After the advent of morphine, other opium-derived painkilling substances were invented including codeine (1830), heroin (1874), and methadone (1937) by scientists seeking to create more effective and less addictive substances. Synthetic opiates like Vicodin (1984), Oxycontin (1995), and Percoset (1999) were later derived. Demerol , Oxycontin, Hydrocodone, Opana, Roxenal, and Lortab are other common names for synthetic opiate painkillers.

Though opiates have long been recognized for their medicinal uses, history points to a darker side. In the mid-1800s, Britain brought opium from India into China and millions became hooked. The widespread addiction proved to be economically and socially detrimental to China and attempts curb the trade resulted in the Opium Wars.

As opium grew in popularity, its negative effects on individuals and societies also became apparent. Many countries put restrictions in place, and in 1905, the U.S. Congress banned the use of opium. However, opioid usage remains legal for those who use derivatives of the drug as prescription painkillers.

Today, opioid abuse has reached epidemic proportions. According to a 2014 report by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, in the U.S., 46 people per day die from an overdose of prescription painkillers. The report states that in 2012, “Health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for painkillers … enough for every American to have a bottle of pills.”

It is not abnormal for patients who are prescribed painkillers to become dependent on their medications. Some who use their medications exactly as prescribed still develop a tolerance or experience withdrawal symptoms, but do not display other characteristics of addiction. It is important to use discretion and recognize that dependence, abuse, and addiction are not interchangeable. While abuse is not taking drugs in the fashion they are prescribed , WebMD lists the following as potential warning signs of prescription drug addiction:

  • Recurrently thinking of medications
  • Not following doctor’s advised dosage
  • ‘Doctor shopping’ or seeking ‘pill mill’ physicians
  • Attaining drugs from sources other than your physician
  • Longtime prescription drug usage
  • Feelings of agitation when the subject is broached
  • Not feeling like yourself and unusual behaviors

Treatment for addiction to painkillers typically includes medication, counseling, and traditional therapies like the popular 12-step program. The first step in this process is detoxification, which often includes the prescription of drugs that may relieve withdrawal symptoms, such as methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone. The duration of withdrawal can last anywhere from hours to days and is determined by the length and amount of the user’s abuse. Medications are designed to wean addicted individuals from physical drug dependence.

Common withdrawal symptoms can include the following :

  • Feeling anxious or irritable
  • Craving the substance of choice
  • Quick breathing
  • Yawning
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Increased salivation
  • Goosebumps
  • Aching muscles
  • Abdominal cramps, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Sweating
  • Enlarged pupils
  • Tremors
  • Loss of appetite
  • Confusion

When this initial stage is completed, long-term maintenance therapy on methadone or buprenorphine is often established and psychological and social factors of addiction are addressed. Both outpatient and in-patient treatment options are discussed and joining support groups is encouraged. One 12-step program option available is Narcotics Anonymous (NA), a community-based program which is styled after Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).

If you recognize that someone you love is showing signs if chemical dependence on opiates or other prescription drugs, an intervention may be necessary. Nestled in the heart of the Texas Hill Country, La Hacienda provides a peaceful and knowledgeable environment for those suffering from prescription painkiller addiction. We take a patient-oriented and individualized approach to recovery which consists of several components, including detoxification and individual, group, and family counseling.