Those individuals who are dealing with chronic pain are at particular risk of developing an addiction to opiate painkillers. In such a situation the person will not set out to become a slave to the drug. They are merely attempting to manage their discomfort by taking medication that is recommended by their doctor.
Unfortunately the risk of addiction is there even when a medication is prescribed for a legitimate purpose. Opiates are highly addictive substances and so it is not surprising that people become physically dependent on them. Taking such medication over a long time period is always going to involve some risk. The dangers associated with such drugs are well-known and this is why they are legally controlled and only available by prescription. However, most people who are prescribed such medication will never develop a problem.
To say that somebody is addicted to analgesic medication is to imply that they are both physically and physiologically dependent on it. As well as there being a mental compulsion to use the drug, there are also physical changes in the body due to chronic use. If the individual were to quit using the drug it would mean that their body would experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. It is the combination of mental and physical symptoms that can keep people trapped in addiction.
All opiate analgesia comes with the risk of addiction. This medicine originates from the opium poppy. This plant is also the source of illegal drugs such as heroin. The most commonly prescribed drugs in this range include:
* Co-codamol (Tylenol 3)
* Oxycodone (Oxycontin)
* Dihydrocodeine (DF118)
* Pentazocine (Fortral, Talwin)
This type of pain medication works by binding itself to opiate receptors which are found in the central as well as peripheral nervous system. This has the effect of reducing pain signals arriving in the brain and thus lowers the perception of pain. The medication also helps calm the mind so that the emotional response to pain is reduced as well. These drugs work well for acute pain and are also used extensively in palliative care. These are routinely prescribed for patients who have undergone surgery.
painkiller addiction is associated with a number of potential dangers that could seriously impact the individual’s ability to function well in life. The potential unwanted side effects of long-term over use include;
* An overdose of this medication can lead to respiratory arrest and death.
* Those individuals who take opiates over a long time period will develop a tolerance to it so that more of the drug is required to create the same effects.
* Overuse of opiate painkillers can lead to a compromised immune system.
* Those individuals who become addicted to this type of painkiller will suffer withdrawal symptoms if they to stop.
* Physical symptoms such as constipation, nausea, vomiting, confusion, and drowsiness.
* Chronic abuse of this type of drug can lead to organ damage.
It is claimed that as many as 10% of people in the US will abuse opiates at some point in their lifetime. There are said to be 5.2 million using this type of medication each year. Up to 6 million Americans use prescription drugs for non-medical purposes. It is believed that 2 million people abuse opiate analgesia. The trend appears to be that increasing numbers of people are becoming addicted to prescription drugs. This is a real problem for society as well as those individuals who become dependent on these drugs. Statistics show that painkiller abuse has risen by 163% since the mid-nineties.
Most individuals who use prescription opiates will never develop any problems because of it. This type of drug is essential for helping people deal with pain. Those who are most at risk for developing an addiction will be long-term users. It is also believed that anyone who has had previous substance abuse problems will be at an increased risk of addiction to prescription opiates. In palliative care there is less concern about addiction because the benefits of these drugs far outweigh any potential harmful consequences.
Those individuals who are developing an addiction to this type of medication will tend to exhibit a number of symptoms including:
* Using the drug for non-medicinal purposes. Even when the individual is not experiencing pain they will still feel a compulsion to take the medication.
* The addicted individual may neglect their responsibilities. They might also stop taking care of their appearance and hygiene needs.
* As tolerance increases there will be an urge to get more of the drug.
* People who have developed an addiction will tend to be defensive should anyone question their drug usage.
* There can be changes to mental functioning with the individual becoming forgetful or confused at times.
* The person can start to devote increasing periods of time to obtaining more of the drug. They may be willing to seek out new doctors and even drive to a distant town in the hope of getting a new prescription.
* Anyone who takes a drug for a long time can exhibit withdrawal symptoms upon cessation. In physical addiction these withdrawal symptoms will always be present.
The treatment of prescription opiate addiction can be complicated by the fact that the individual may still have pain that needs to be managed. It is therefore usually necessary that different pain management strategies are required to replace the opiate medication. In many instances the patient will be able to work with their doctor to safely come off opiates. In other cases it may be necessary for the individual to attend an inpatient rehab program. This will ensure that they not only pass through the withdrawal period safely, but that they also develop the tools they will need to rebuild their life.
Opiate withdrawals can occur when the drug is stopped or when the dosage is reduced after prolonged use. The type of symptoms that the individual may experience includes:
* Inability to sleep
* Agitation and anxiety
* Profuse sweating
* Muscle aches
* Abdominal cramps
* Nausea and vomiting
* Loss of appetite
With most opiate drugs withdrawal symptoms will begin within 12 hours of stopping the medication. Some of the symptoms can last as long as one month but they are most intense within the first week of withdrawals. Many individuals describe the symptoms as being similar to a bad flu. Different medications can be used to remove much of the unpleasantness associated with withdrawals. These will usually be made available when the individual is going through a medically assisted detox.