02 Dec Prescription Painkillers Are Leading Americans into Drug Addiction
A medicine created to ease discomfort and help people get control of their life again is now the very thing that is taking control of people’s lives and causing them harm. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 15,000 Americans died from prescription painkiller overdoses in 2008. In less than 10 years time, the number had tripled from 4,000 in 1999. These overdoses now exceed the ones caused by cocaine and heroin combined. And, a startling find is that when prescription painkillers become too expensive or aren’t producing an effective high anymore, a growing number of people are leaping from prescription painkillers right into illegal painkillers like heroin.
The government reports that the sales of prescription painkillers have increased greatly in recent years, and in many cases the drugs are being misused. The CDC reported that in 2010 nearly 12 million Americans had used prescription painkillers for non-medical purposes. Patients have put their trust in their health providers’ hands and don’t think that something prescribed to them could be so dangerously addictive. But these painkillers, which are often used over a long period of time, can cause the body to build a tolerance; leading the patient to crave more of the painkiller until they eventually develop an addiction. Meanwhile, other problems like hepatitis, severe liver damage, and HIV exposure may also occur.
Professionals are seeing more teens use prescription painkillers, which then start using heroin. An anonymous healthcare worker reported they have seen more young people abusing heroin than they did five years ago. They start using them after something like a sports injury, and then when the prescriptions become too expensive, they find heroin on the streets. A Deputy in Southern California reported that he talked with a heroin abuser whose story was the same. The abuser said that he started using the painkiller OxyContin in high school. Eventually, he had a difficult time paying for the prescription and then he started injecting heroin to fight his pain.
Even if people don’t turn to using heroin, the government reports that there are 5.3 million people over the age of twelve who admitted to abusing prescription drugs in the past year. This escalating addiction is leading to drug overdoses at an alarming rate. The CDC reported that over the past 10 years, deaths due to prescription narcotics have tripled. Averaged out, 40 people would die daily from prescription painkillers.
According to the New York Times, Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, has come under scrutiny for their role in claiming that OxyContin would be less addictive than other narcotics because it was an extended-release drug rather than a short-acting one. However, published reports confirmed that a growing number of people went from using OxyContin to using heroin after their addiction made them crave even more.
The FDA hopes to protect consumers and curb the number of people who fall into the cycle of addiction to prescription painkillers. They plan to better educate doctors on the safe prescription of painkillers and enact stricter policies on the distribution of these prescriptions. As the distribution of prescription painkillers decreases, less people are likely to start an addiction that may take them from a drug that eases pain to one that causes it.
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