Painkiller Abuse has Long-Term Health Consequences

Person taking painkillers

It is no mystery to anyone that the use and abuse of painkiller drugs, for self-medicative or recreational reasons, is an extremely unhealthy choice. This is no mystery to us. It is well understood the all-too-serious overdose risk presented by such drug use, and no one is deluding themselves into thinking that getting high on painkiller medicines does not have some risk to their lives inherent in it. However, recent information has found that self-medicating on painkiller medicines brings with it a wide plethora of negative side effects in the form of health consequences, consequences that have nothing to do with overdose risk, which is of course the most concerning consequence.

Health officials out of Tennessee are reporting new findings that addicts who crush prescription pain relievers into a powder, dissolve that powder in water, and then inject the powder into their veins ultimately open themselves up for risk in developing serious blood clotting disorders. The blood disorder is called thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura (TTP), and while it has traditionally been a very rare disorder, this phenomena is quite common amongst addicts who self-medicate on painkiller drugs through IV use.

According to Dr. Leonard Paulozzi of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

“I don't think anybody has a figure for the percentage of people who are crushing these drugs to inject them; nobody really knows how commonly people do that…”
“I don't think anybody has a figure for the percentage of people who are crushing these drugs to inject them; nobody really knows how commonly people do that. There are, however, many reports of people crushing these pills to make them injectable. The advantage is it gets into the bloodstream faster. Apparently, the amount of euphoria associated with the drug is associated with how fast the drug level rises in your bloodstream.”

Pharmaceutical Giants Attempt to Change Medicines

Purpura reaction on the necks skin
Thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura reaction on the skin.

As one can imagine, pharmaceutical companies came under a lot of fire when it was discovered the risk involved with prescription painkillers use, whether medically and ethically or not. When a link from prescription painkillers like Opana ER was drawn to thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura (TTP), the makers of Opana ER scrambled to make a different type of the drug that did not put people at risk for TTP.

But of course, while Opana ER was getting a facelift by its makers, no effort was made to make the drug any less addictive, which is the concerning factor here. When the drug is addictive, people will continue to take it anyway, whether a risk for thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura is there or not. And TTP is not the only unhealthy aspect of taking prescription pain relievers either. There is far more at risk here, including the user's life.

“Reformulating” Pharmaceutical Drugs Does not Reduce Danger

When pharmaceutical giants reformulate their drugs to reduce new pressure on them to make their drugs safer, it does not stop those addicted from still finding ways to get high regardless. Reformulating the drugs might be an effort in the right direction, but it is by no means the only action that should be taken. According to Tennessee Department of Health epidemiologist, Dr. David Kirschke:

“Unfortunately, in this case, the condition appears to be associated specifically with the reformulated version of the medication. It could be that something was done to the pill, which may be what's causing actual illness when they do abuse it.”

As we can see, there is simply too much risk involved here to ever feel good and “comfortable” about using prescription painkiller drugs, even ethically so. Patients who struggle with pain would be far better off simply finding alternative pain relief, and addicts who are hooked on painkillers would do well to get off of them as soon as possible.




After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.