~ by Joe Herzanek, Author: Why Don’t They Just Quit? Hope for families struggling with addiction.
Technology is wonderful—up to a point. The medical and pharmaceutical industries have made huge advances to help those suffering from all sorts of diseases. Most of these advances are genuine lifesavers.
Americans are enjoying longer and higher quality lives—so much so, that we have come to expect many things as normal (diseases cured, symptoms gone and less pain for those suffering the debilitating affects of certain health problems).
Much Too Popular
One class of drugs—opiate painkillers, has become much too popular. These meds will not only relieve physical pain but will also give the user a pleasant euphoric effect at the same time. For a significant and growing number if people this euphoric state of mind is becoming more and more difficult to let go of (similar to the popularity of Valium in the 70’s—which by the way, has been recently increasing as well).
So how and why is this happening? How do pain meds cause even more pain? Let me start by saying that these drugs are very necessary for genuine pain—such as pain experienced after a surgery, broken bones, dental work and more. When used as prescribed, for short periods of time these drugs make life manageable. In some very rare cases they may be appropriate for extended periods of time—especially when a person has a terminal disease. A very small percentage of people fall into this category. Thank God for these medications.
The majority of people who take these medications do not fall in this group. Here is where the problem starts. Rarely does anyone start out to become dependent on opiate pain meds. It happens slowly without being noticed. This is an insidious process. Usually, there comes a time when a person’s physical pain is gone. With regular use of painkilling drugs, the central nervous system has come to expect the drug and the sedative affect it produces—as normal.
When a person stops using the drug, the body revolts. This is called withdrawal. It’s normal. Much less extreme, but nonetheless similar, a heavy coffee drinker who suddenly quits drinking coffee altogether will experience headaches for a few days. This is because their central nervous system has become accustomed to regular jolts of caffeine throughout the day. Withdrawal from caffeine is usually short-lived and not too difficult. Stopping opiate pain meds is similar, but much, much more intense. The withdrawal symptoms are often very painful—so much so that the person will start to think that their pain is not really gone and they must get and take more pain meds.
A Vicious Cycle
Not only is the body expecting this drug, but a person who is taking pain medication is also building a tolerance to it. Their body is requiring more, sometimes lots more—to feel better. This is a vicious cycle that feeds on itself and only gets worse over time. The person taking theses drugs will also become much more sensitive to all pain—as the normal ability to handle mild pain with over-the-counter medications is now diminished.
I’ve recently watched this problem arise close to home, as a family member needed surgery. He had been regularly taking large amounts of pain meds for back pain. While in the hospital for knee-replacement surgery, he found that he required a much larger dosage of pain meds than a normal person would need. After he was given the maximum safe dosage—excruciating pain still persisted. One feels helpless in these situations.
To ensure that this doesn’t happen, pain meds really should only be used when truly needed. Otherwise, when the time comes that a person genuinely needs them—these pain-relieving drugs may not work at all.
How large is this problem really? In 2007 there were a total of 3.7 billion prescriptions written in the United States. 182 million were for pain meds*! I have double-checked these numbers because I thought they couldn’t be correct. Pain meds are second only to prescriptions written for lowering cholesterol (192 million prescriptions). Anti-depressant prescriptions came in third with 158 million.
If you subtract people aged 21 and under from these numbers—that leaves 230 million adults. According to these calculations, over 15 million people are taking opiate pain medications every day. This is 5% of the entire adult population.
Do all these people need opiate pain medication every day? The only way to know for sure is to quit, go through withdrawal and see how you feel after a few months—drug-free. More and more people are unwilling to go through this process. Today, addiction to opiate pain medications is one of the main reasons people are checking into rehab centers.
So how does one avoid becoming dependent on pain medications? And once a person has become dependent on them, how do they learn to safely quit?
Read more about this topic—chapter 27, Why Don’t They JUST QUIT?
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> Is a relapse—failure?
>Should my husband “back off?”
> If someone can stop using drugs or alcohol for weeks at a time, they “aren’t an addict—correct?
>Chronic Pain Management & Pain Pill Addiction: What to do?
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Opiate Pain Meds: Avoiding Opiate Prescription Drug Addiction in Recovery
Return from Pain Meds Cause More Pain! The new silent epidemic to Drug Addiction Help Now Home
* IMS Health Services (2007 Research Statistics)
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Opiate pain, pain meds, meds cause pain, opiate pain medications
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I thank God for my pain meds. I am 70 and I do not care if they are habit forming. These pain pills allow me to walk, without I would be inside 24/7. I did that for four months and it was not pleasant.
Sorry to hear about your situation and your fiance. Please go to eyeonaddiction.com and there you will find some resources that will help with your question. I interviewed several top professionals on my radio program that go into great detail on both addiction and opiate pain med abuse. The shows are archived there and they are a free resource that will help answer your questions.
Best regards, Joe
My fiance recently had her lower leg amputated. She complained of serious pain so her dr prescribed heavy amounts of opiates which worked great until they started not working causing her to take more and more which caused overdosing and rehab hoping to end the cycle. But relapsing is taking place and i dont know what to do. Now drz are denying her any meds and appointments. Its causing family problems but i know the woman i love is still there and wants to get back to pursing her dreans with family and college. I feel helpless and want to fix it but dont know how.
First off this is ridiculous
1) Its nearly impossible to get a doctor to prescribe pain meds to people who really need them. Even Tramadol is treated like a hardcore narcotic. What doctors are these 180 million people going to:? None that I know of anymore. Doctors are sadistic nowadays
2) What about people who have real horrible debilitating chronic pain. The trend is to hate opiates. I think this sadistic people should have to undergo surgery without pain killers and see how they like it. After all pain is how you know you are alive
Thanks for the comment and I’m glad you found the article helpful. Pain meds (opiates of all kinds) are very difficult to get off of. Just the same many people do stop using them and go on to enjoy life. I like your ‘tough love’ approach. It usually takes an ultimatum from someone close to get the person to see the light. Be strong, don’t compromise and see what happens.
If he quits and begins recovery great. If not then maybe think about moving on. We only get one shot at life on planet earth. Don’t waste it.
p/s I will be having an expert on pain meds on my radio show on Feb. 4th. Go to eyeonaddiction.com for more info.
This information has been very helpful with the guilt that I allow my husband to press on me, in reference to his prescription drug addiction. I have become very anger and resentful and panic driven due to feeling powerless.
I am now beginning to push back and refuse to put up with his everyday events of emotion and asking for pills when ever his eyes open in the morning. I am at the point of separation from my spouse. He do not want to give up his morphine and has himself convinced that he is still needing it for pain. I also suffer from an injury but have learned to live with it. I tell him pain lets him know he is alive.
I thought this was a very informative post. The process through which new drugs are tested is very long and complex. Most drugs take upwards of 8 years to be approved. Obviously there are still side effects of drugs that are approved, which can be pretty harmful. Still this is an ongoing process which is getting better.
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absolutely. Exactly why everyone today is encouraging herbal pain relief meds – as well as natural pain relief. Nothing’s better than the good old days of exercising and a great customized diet!