Prescription opioid drugs, which include commonly prescribed medications such as OxyContin and Vicodin, can provide effective, safe pain relief when used as prescribed. However, the risk of prescription opioid abuse and developing a dependency is high, and the abuse of these drugs has skyrocketed in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared prescription drug abuse a public health epidemic.
Are these potent painkillers a prescription for abuse and addiction? This article explores the prescription opioid epidemic and describes how to recognize the signs of a problem with these medications.
Prescription Opioids and Addiction
Prescription opioid abuse isn't just a widespread problem—it's also a deadly one. About 44 people in this country die each day from an overdose of prescription opioids.1 These drugs are dangerous on their own, but they also act as a gateway drug to heroin, a more powerful and deadly opioid drug that is often cheaper and easier to obtain than a prescription. Research shows that people who have abused prescription painkillers are over 40 times more likely to become addicted to heroin.
Who Becomes Addicted?
While anyone can abuse and become dependent on prescription opioids, studies indicate that the rate of abuse varies among different demographic groups. Cases of addiction involving prescription opioids were seen most often among non-Hispanic white Americans, while the most frequent use of the drugs was found among non-Hispanic black Americans.
Prescription opioid abuse is also more common among people who struggle with depression, who do not have health insurance, or who are disabled and unable to work. Individuals who were addicted to another substance in the past are also more likely to abuse prescription painkillers.
Knowing the Signs of Prescription Opioid Abuse
It can be easier to treat a prescription opioid addiction if it's addressed in the early stages. Knowing the signs and symptoms of abuse can help you identify a potential problem. A few classic signs of prescription opioid abuse include:2
- Taking more than the prescribed dose of the drug
- Forging prescriptions or stealing other people's prescriptions
- Abrupt mood swings
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Seeing multiple doctors to get prescriptions
- Pretending to lose prescriptions in order to get new ones
Some physical symptoms may also indicate that a person is abusing prescription opioids. These symptoms include:
- Confusion and sleepiness
- Constricted pupils
- Impaired coordination
Prescription opioid abuse is a serious and pervasive problem in the United States. Although new government regulations and crackdowns on prescribing practices have helped states get a handle on the problem, the rate of addiction is still troubling.
If you or someone you love is struggling with a dependence on prescription opioids, it's important to know that the situation isn't hopeless: help is available. With the right course of treatment, you can conquer your dependence and turn your life around.