Addiction to prescription drugs becoming an ‘unrecognized epidemic’?
Monday, October 5th, 2009
Addiction to prescription painkillers has become an unrecognized epidemic in America according to experts.
It is estimated that prescription drugs account for than 26,000 fatal overdoses each year and around 120,000 Americans are taken to hospital for treatment after overdosing on painkillers.
Statistics highlight that the number of deaths from opium like painkillers, such as morphine and codeine, has tripled between 1999 and 2006, accounting for 13,800 deaths in America in 2008.
Leonard Paulozzi of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says that the number of overdoses due to prescription painkillers have now exceed those of heroin and cocaine.
“The biggest and fastest-growing part of America’s drug problem is prescription drug abuse,” says Robert DuPont, former director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. “The statistics are unmistakable.”
The stark increase in the number of people becoming addicted to painkillers is blamed on the ease in which Americans can obtain the drugs.
According to David Zvara, chair of anesthesiology at University of North Carolina Hospitals, more Americans are asking their doctors for painkillers to ease ailments caused by their age and extra weight that they carry. He also says that there has been a huge increase in the number of patients seeking medication for chronic pain.
Further to this, doctors are accused of readily prescribing painkillers to relieve the suffering of their patient. This is not to say that many people who are prescribed painkillers are not following the instructions and using them legally, however there are people who are genetically susceptible to addiction or are depressed or under stress and the use of painkillers provides a sense of well-being or euphoria. The danger comes when a person begins to rely on the drug for the psychological benefits even after their physical pain has gone.
Christopher Gharibo, medical director of pain medicine at NYU-Hospital for Joint Diseases in New York advises that any person who is in pain or takes pain killers for more than three months should consult a pain-management specialist.
Doctors can try and help manage the epidemic by treating long-term pain with anti-inflammatory drugs, anti-convulsants and muscle relaxants for example. They can also conduct urine tests or count the patients remaining pills in an attempt to monitor their consumption.
However, the relative ease in which people can be buy painkillers, either on the street or through illegal Internet sites, means that risk of addiction and potentially overdosing remains high.
Experts say there are many reasons why the public don’t realize the seriousness of the problem. Unlike crack, prescription painkillers generally aren’t associated with increased street crime or violence.
Furthermore, many people underestimate how dangerous painkillers can be, assuming that anything prescribed by a doctor must be safe.