Drug addiction is a significant problem in the United States. According to statistics supplied by the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), over 21 million Americans had an active substance abuse problem in 2014, the last year for which complete data is available.
While the use and abuse of illegal street drugs such as meth and cocaine remain a top concern, prescription drug abuse is a growing problem for folks across all genders, age-groups and socio-economic backgrounds. According to the same data provided by ASAM, there are over 47,000 deaths each year in the U.S. due to drug use, with overdose from prescription painkillers accounting for nearly 19,000 of those deaths.
Types of Prescription Painkillers:
There are a number of painkillers that are legally available on the market. Individuals only need a doctor’s prescription in order to walk into their local pharmacy, or place an order online, for these dangerous substances. Painkillers are made from chemical compounds that act upon the human nervous system to temporarily reduce or block the transmission of pain signals from nerve endings to the brain.
Many of the most dangerous, and abused, prescription painkillers belong to a class of drugs known as opiates. Some of the most prescribed opiates include codeine, hydrocodone, oxycodone, fentanyl and morphine. Many of these drugs can be delivered in pill or inject-able form, and can be crushed and then sniffed, snorted or combined with other drugs to increase their rate of delivery into the body, which can increase the risk of producing side effects such as euphoria or a sensation of feeling “high.”
How Prescription Painkiller Abuse Starts:
Most people that end up addicted to opiates and other prescription painkillers do not start out intending to misuse drugs. Most prescription drug abuse starts out innocently with the patient seeking medical or dental care and subsequently receiving a prescription for medication that is intended to help them control their pain levels in the short turn.
Injuries during sports and other accidents can lead to pulled and torn ligaments, tendons and broken bones. Common dental procedures such as treatment for TMJ, and the pulling of one or more teeth, also known as extractions, lead many doctors and dentists to write their patients a prescription for pain medication.
Many patients are under the misunderstanding that prescription painkillers are completely safe and that they can not become addicted to these substances since they are obtained via a prescription. Sadly, this is not the case and the need for prescription drug addiction treatment is often needed after routine medical or dental care.
When someone uses an opiate or other prescription painkiller, the body quickly builds up a tolerance to the medication. This can lead the patient to begin using more of the drug to control their pain, and eventually they can develop both a physical and mental dependence on these substances where the mind begins to crave the drug and the body undergoes painful withdrawal symptoms when they try to cut back and stop taking the drug.
While the abuse of prescription painkillers can happen to anyone, teenagers may be more susceptible as they are often at just the right age for referral to dentists for extraction of their wisdom teeth, which can lead to severe pain and the genuine need for prescription medication to treat the pain. Since teenagers bodies are still growing and developing, they may also be more likely to injure other parts of their body playing competitive sports in after school events, which can increase their chances of developing a painful injury where painkillers may be part of the treatment plan.
As teenagers continue to grow and develop, they also gain more independence and are more open to experimenting and trying new things. This can increase the chances that they might “try out” prescription drugs that they find in the home that have been prescribed for someone else. All of these factors can make it more difficult to stop prescription drug abuse in teenagers.
Tips to Avoid Addiction to Prescription Drugs:
Before beginning a prescription painkiller, patients should talk to their dentists and doctors and make certain that they fully understand the goal of treatment with the pain medication, including how long they should expect to need to use the medication, and when the treatment will stop.
Since the risk for addiction increases the longer that a substance is used, individuals should only use the smallest dose possible to control their pain, and only take the medication in the form, and frequency that is prescribed by their dentist or doctor. Patients should never double up on the dose, or seek alternative sources for the medication once they have completed their treatment.
Patients should promptly notify their dentists and doctors when they feel that the medication is not working for the specified amount of time, or, if they find that they are having a difficult time waiting in between doses rather than taking more of the medication. Early referrals for addiction treatment can make it easier for individuals to be weaned from the physical need for the drug as well as help them to more quickly gain coping skills to deal with cravings.
If the medication is not enough to control the pain, patients can avoid the risk of addiction by seeking alternative, non-addictive methods to help them cope with the pain, such as ice packs, massage, gentle stretching, or even meditation to help them deal with the pain.
In addition to protecting themselves from addiction, individuals that have been prescribed pain medication should take steps to protect others in their home from misusing it. Safely secure any prescription painkillers to prevent someone else in the home from taking them. Dispose of any leftover medication to prevent others from acquiring it and using it.