Written by: Tyrone Townsend
The dangers of opiate prescription drugs tend to be overlooked. After all, they’re prescribed by doctors, right? And doesn’t the Hippocratic Oath to which all doctors swear advise them to “First, do no harm”?
The reality is that opiate abuse can lead an individual down a path of self-destruction. Opiates have an appeal that latches on to the user. I should know – I have myself been borderline between physical dependency and addiction.
Every day, 46 Americans die from using prescription pain killers. From the years of 1999 to 2012, the deadliness of opiates has reared its ugly head. Dr. Audrey Kolodny, chief medical officer with the Phoenix House Foundation, said that the nation is suffering from an epidemic worse than the cocaine and heroin scourge of the 70s and 80s. He said the drug companies of those decades wanted pain pills prescribed for common problems, rather than a limited market, so the companies convinced the medical professionals that addiction is rare and different from physical dependency.
The devastating effects of opiate medications have also affected older Americans. An increased number of then have died due to prescription opiates. Between 1993 to 2012, the hospitalization for overdose not only spiked, but the rate of deaths due to overdose skyrocketed sevenfold for people ages 55 to 64. The group with the highest death rate is 45 to 54 which was more than four times that of teenagers and young adults. What scary is that a recent study indicated that 91% of individuals who had previously overdose on opioid painkiller and survived were still able to get another narcotic prescription – and this is typically from none other than the same prescribing doctors!
There are plenty of prescription pain killers out there for anyone to pick their poison. My personal choices have been Percocet, Hydrocodone, Oxycodone, and Tramadol. At first, I took my dosage as prescribed by my doctor for a chronic knee pain. Then a battle between pride and shame began. When I ingested my opiates, life became a dream. I drifted off into a meditative state. I entered into a warm, sheltered place—a benevolent sanctuary where I was tenderly held —a place very much like the womb.
It is difficult to distinguish between physical dependency and addiction for pain medications. A patient could take the correct dosage and stop; he would still face the damaging side effects and then resort to the pills to ease the pain. The tolerance threshold builds overtime when drugs enter the system; opiates have a sneaky way of luring patients into taking higher dosages than any other drug. Doctors know that any patient who has taken it for months will soon be hooked for years.
When I took narcotic painkillers, the highs of euphoria were unlike any feeling of the natural world. There were no negative side effects that I could feel. I would notice the intensity of euphoria has diminished from the first few occasions when I took them. Without the drugs, I started to feel as if something was missing, to feel less than normal. I would worry about when the next ones are coming when I ran out, so I would raid my parents pill boxes. Life became unbearable without the opiates; I would take it whenever possible. The euphoria would diminish over time while I depended on them for “normalcy.” Despair started to take over even while taking the drugs. No matter how much I took, I was still empty. I tried to quit once in a six-month period and it was very rough, and I relapsed after about a week or two. Finally, I mentally prepared myself at least for three months for the long haul of a cold turkey detox.
The withdrawal symptoms hit me like a brick. The symptoms included muscle pains, chills, diarrhea, insomnia, vomiting, irritability, anxiety, inability to sleep, and stomach pains. Worst of all, I felt like nothing in life would be enjoyable again and I craved for opiates. The physical symptoms stopped after a week or so, yet the mental symptoms continued. I knew opiates would make any bad feelings disappear and make life enjoyable again. I knew this from deep in my bones. It happened in my mind, but my whole body craved for satisfaction. Temptation still whispers in my ear to experience the sensation again, but I resist as I continue my recovery.
If opiates are used at all by anyone, they need to be prescribed with caution and monitored. Patients need to realize and become informed about the hazards of these drugs. Federal officials in recent years have decided to launch educational programs to educate physicians to diminish the overuse of opiates. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services are making efforts to identify persons who may be overusing opioids. To assist with this, they have established a monitoring system. The FDA has also joined the efforts to ensure the safe use of opioid painkillers by issuing a separate guideline.
Doctors need to engage with their patients about the proper treatment. Doctors need to have follow-up conversations with patients to see how treatment is going. Communication between doctor and patient can help develop pain strategies that are effective and safe. In order for this American-made epidemic to cease, the American doctors must lead the way.
About the Author
Tyrone Townsend is a freelance writer and occasional blogger. When he’s not typing away on his laptop, he’s out and about gathering insight for the next piece to set the internet ablaze…or at least he thinks so. For more work by Tyrone, check out his articles on Quiet Mike.org, Superbious, and the Underemployment Life.