It seems like everywhere you look these days, there’s news about opiates. This is both good and bad. It’s bad because this means there are so many opiates in circulation that people need to be notified that there’s a problem. But it’s good because I think more people are becoming more aware of that something is wrong and needs attention. If they are more aware of it, they will be more alert to opiate abuse by a loved one.
According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, heroin abuse is on the rise. Past month use of heroin was reported by 281,000 people in 2011. In 2012, that number was 335,000.
News reports concur with these survey results. For so many people, the problem started with painkillers. Maybe a patient was prescribed painkillers for dental work, an injury or surgery but actually got more pills than needed. Maybe the pills took the edge off some anxiety they were feeling and they used up the bottle even though they didn’t need it. When the pills were gone, they didn’t feel so good so maybe they then went back to the doctor and got more pills.
For some, their use became chronic and they gradually became unable to deal with life successfully because their focus was on making sure they had the pills they needed. A couple of jobs were lost, they began to sell off valuables from their own homes or the homes of parents. It’s not like they wanted to, they just couldn’t take that dopesick feeling.
When the money ran out, they turned to heroin instead of pills because it was a fraction of the price. It’s a story told over and over again, on the front page of small town newspapers when they lose a few beloved young people. For many thousands of other people, no one tells their tale.
According to a report in the Huffington Post, far too many of our soldiers returning from overseas are in chronic pain and taking opiate painkillers. In a July 2014 article, Huffington Post reports that nearly half the soldiers returning from deployments suffer from chronic pain and about 15% are taking opioid (synthetic opiate) painkillers. This is about twice as many people suffering from pain and almost four times as many taking opioids. Forty-four percent of those taking opioids also reported that they actually had no pain or only mild pain in the last month. I fear that many of these soldiers may unintentionally fall into the same pattern that led these other people to heroin use.
It doesn’t take long for the body to adjust to the presence of opiates or opioids. The prescribing information for hydrocodone, the most popular drug of abuse, says: “some mild degree of physical
dependence may develop after a few days of narcotic therapy.” A FEW DAYS! The prescribing information also notes that withdrawal pain and sickness of “clinically significant proportions”
will show up after several weeks of continued use.
I don’t want anyone to go through this experience but it strikes me as particularly unfair when it’s our soldiers who have been working to protect this country.
I believe there is pressure mounting both from the professional side and the non-professional side to change the prescribing methods of doctors. If doctors are better trained on correct prescribing and on spotting symptoms of drug dependence, they will not unwittingly create addicts. They also need to be trained how to help when a person does become dependent on their pills. This conversion will take awhile, but it’s absolutely necessary. A good doctor wants to help, but to provide consistent help, many doctors will need to rethink their prescribing practices and some will need to retrain in this area.