Prescription drug abuse and resulting addiction are huge problems in cities large and small across the country.
As a result, federal law regarding prescription practices for specific medications has changed. Doctors are now:
- Inputting prescription information about addictive substances into statewide databases
- Taking the time to talk to patients prior to giving them a prescription to make sure they are aware of the risks
- Seeing patients who are on long-term painkiller prescriptions more frequently to ensure they are not struggling with addiction
- Engaging in more trainings to make sure that they are up-to-date on issues pertaining to painkiller prescription
Forbes reports that a number of these changes are taking place in Indiana among prescribing doctors in an effort to respond to drug abuse in their communities. Many are even cutting back on the number of prescriptions for painkillers that they give to patients as a result of increasing attention paid to the issue. The only medical professionals who frequently responded that they were unconcerned about the rate of painkiller abuse in their community, according to the study cited by Forbes, were dentists.
In Pain Physician Journal, researchers wrote: “This research underscores the critical importance of engaging healthcare providers fully in public health efforts to reverse the course of the prescription drug epidemic.”
Other Patient Protections
In addition to the changes made by doctors with patients in the exam room, there are a few proposals in the works that will also serve to limit new cases of prescription drug abuse, addiction, and overdose among pain patients and their family members who may abuse leftover drugs kept in the home.
For example, Walgreens recently announced that they will be installing in excess of 500 drug “take-back” kiosks in stores across 39 states and Washington DC. These kiosks will be available to patrons 24 hours a day in most cases, offering a “no questions asked” opportunity for people who would like to get rid of extra, expired, or unwanted medications a safe place to do so without introducing them into the water supply or keeping them around where they have the potential to be abused.
Additionally, Dr. Robert Califf, the new head of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced that he will support the development of new pills that are in abuse-deterrent form. The Associated Press reports that Califf told his panel advisers that he will do “everything possible under our authority to prevent abuse, save lives and treat dependence.”
When Painkiller Addiction Strikes
The majority of patients who are given a painkiller prescription to manage pain associated with an acute injury will be able to take the prescription as needed on a short-term basis without developing a problem or falling victim to overdose. Unfortunately, there are some who will inadvertently or purposefully take their prescription and end up developing an addiction – not just a physical dependence, which is common when an addictive drug is taken regularly for a period of time, but both a physical dependence and a psychological dependence that add up to addiction. When this occurs, it is officially a diagnosable medical disorder that is separate from the pain issue that may have triggered the prescription in the first place. As the dose needed to experience the high and stave off withdrawal symptoms increases, the person struggling with the disorder may become increasingly absorbed by the addiction and exhibit changes that are identifiable to others.
Too often, patients and their families believe that since the prescription came from a doctor it must be safe, and any odd behavioral changes are disregarded as normal side effects or just par for the course of recovery. While there can be a brief period of adjustment when a dose is changed by the doctor or a new medication is started, these behaviors are generally outside the norm:
- “Nodding out” frequently
- Complaining of illness when asked about effects of drug use
- Isolating oneself
- Seeking out more pills from multiple doctors, multiple pharmacies, or the emergency room
- Reacting aggressively or with avoidance when asked about pill use
- Using alcohol or other drugs in combination with painkillers
- Crushing painkillers before swallowing, snorting, or injecting them
If you notice these behaviors in someone you care about, you may be seeing the signs of a painkiller addiction.
Treatment Makes a Difference
If someone you care about is struggling with an addiction to painkillers, no matter how that addiction began, treatment can be the first step to positive change. If your loved one experiences withdrawal symptoms when without the pills and/or has attempted to stop taking the medication but been unsuccessful, it is important to begin with medical detox. Professional detox can include maintenance medications that slow down the detox process and make it a safe, yet controlled experience that is defined by minimal withdrawal symptoms, or it can be a medicated experience in which the person stops using all substances at once but takes nonaddictive medications as needed to manage withdrawal symptoms as they arise.
It is important to note that detox alone is not a full treatment for addiction. Intensive and long-term therapeutic treatment is recommended to ensure that all underlying issues are addressed, including any co-occurring mental health issues. This treatment should include a wide range of therapy options, including personal therapy, group therapy, holistic treatments, and alternative therapies. Based on personal evaluations and goal setting, the therapies included in the treatment plan can be the bridge to a new life of balance and wellness in recovery.