Prescription Drugs are a Growing Epidemic and Frequently a Gateway Drug

Guest Post By : Emma Haylett

Prescriptions drugs can be incredibly addictive, but many people are lured into a false sense of security thinking if their pills are prescribed to them, they must be safe to take.

Unfortunately, this simply isn’t true. In a quiz by the University of Buffalo of 75 patients being treated for opioid detoxification, 31 of them first became addicted by taking pill prescribed to them by a doctor legitimately for pain. Another 24 began their addiction by taking pills a friend was prescribed while only 20 of the patients were hooked from taking street drugs.

Over half of the respondents said they first started taking pain medication after a surgery, because of an injury, or because they suffered from back pain.

How does a prescription lead to increased use?
The problem with narcotic painkillers is two-fold. First, an increased tolerance to opioids can happen very quickly and users will need a higher dose to achieve the same effect. In addition to an increased tolerance, many people experienced a psychological tolerance as well and become desensitized to the effects of the drug. Often Tolerance is a key indicator to addiction.

The second issue associated with opioid use is; as the addiction grows users believe they need to take more of the drug due to intensifying pain, when in reality withdrawal can be causing the increased cravings.

Why do doctors keep prescribing these pills?
A rise in pain pill prescriptions was driven, not surprisingly, by the pharmaceutical industry, but many patients helped and even encouraged the drive.

Although there are a number of ways to treat pain, especially some of the most common sources of pain in the United States—like back pain—many patients aren’t interested in repeat treatments or referrals. Instead of visiting a chiropractor, massage therapist or using acupuncture to treat pain many patients opt for medication instead.

What can be done to slow the epidemic?
The F.D.A. is working to curtail long-term prescriptions, and in a proposal that could take effect in early 2014, doctors would no longer be allowed to write six month prescriptions for addictive drugs like Vicodin. 
Instead doctors could only prescribe up to a 90 day supply, after which the patient would have to return to their physician for an in-office visit.

The F.D.A. also recommended prescription narcotics be produced in a manner that is more abuse-resistant.

Will limiting prescription availability lead to other problems?
Many experts claim prescription pain pills have become a gateway drug. If a patient’s doctor begins to refuse to refill or increase their prescription many people turn to illegal drugs to satisfy their cravings.
Some people have turned to drugs, like heroin specifically, because pharmaceuticals have followed the F.D.A.’s recommendation to produce narcotics in an abuse resistant manner which made pill difficult to crush for injecting or snorting.

Other people turn to street drugs after they’ve been labeled as ‘drug-seeking’ and their doctor becomes unwilling to continue to prescribe them pain medication or are unsympathetic toward their pain. In some cases insurance companies stop covering the cost of the pain medication altogether. As a result of one or more of the above issues some people will turn to drugs like heroin or cocaine to cope with their addiction.

Author’s bio: Emma Haylett is a Certified Prevention Specialist Intern and graduate students. Emma helps coordinate a non 12 step recovery program for addicts and families of addicts

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