Overall Life-Threatening Risks of Abusing Painkillers
There are some types of damage that do not target a specific organ, but simply threaten one’s overall health or survival. Continue reading to learn about these.
Specific threats associated with injecting or snorting these drugs: While the heroin addict can be damaged by the adulterants that are added to the heroin, the prescription painkiller addict may be injured by the additives to some opioid (meaning similar to opiates) painkillers. In Tennessee in January 2013, health officials noted that individuals who had been injecting the painkiller Opana ER (extended release) developed a disorder that caused blood clots to form in small blood vessels around the body. The disorder can be fatal. These individuals had been crushing the pills so they could inject them.
People who inject painkillers run many of the same risks as a heroin addict - many addicts neglect their health to the point of sharing needles or having risky sex, either one of which can result in the transmission of blood-borne diseases like HIV or hepatitis B or C.
The transmission of disease can occur when pills are crushed and snorted, as well. Users may share a straw, dollar bill or other device to suck the powder up into the note. It is common for there to be traces of blood on these devices after use, which can transmit diseases to the next user.
Infection: Chronic opiate abuse has been identified with many different types of infection, such as cellulitis which is an infection of the surface of the body. Cellulitis causes swelling, blistering and open sores, and if it spreads to the lymph glands, can spread quickly throughout the body. Abscesses and collapsed veins are also likely to develop as users hunt for different injection sites around their bodies.
Opiate abuse can also cause an infection of the heart lining and valves. A report from Florida noted that six men were admitted to the hospital suffering from endocarditis, an inflammation of the heart lining that can cause the valves to rupture. They had all been injecting oxycodone. Four of them died. While the popular oxycodone-containing pill OxyContin had been reformulated to prevent this kind of abuse, there are other formulations of oxycodone that can still be crushed, dissolved and injected.
Seizure: Some opiates are known for increasing one’s risk of seizure, particularly tramadol (brand name Ultram). This risk increases even more if the user mixes this opiate with a benzodiazepine like Valium or Xanax. The abuse of morphine is also associated with a greater risk of seizures.
Mental: There is a pattern of mental disturbance that accompanies any addiction, but the abuse of prescription opiates poses its own unique threats to mental health. While any addict typically manifests depression, prescription opiate abusers were found to consider suicide in far greater numbers than the general population. Length of use and severity of use coincided with even higher rates of suicidal thoughts. Of those who fit the profile for addiction to opiates, 23% had considered self-destruction. For comparison, of those who had never abused a prescription opiate, only 3% had ever considered suicide.
Pregnancy and babies: Most people are aware that when a pregnant woman abuses a drug, her baby can be born addicted to that drug. What the baby suffers after birth is called “neonatal abstinence syndrome.” In other words, the baby must go through withdrawal sickness and pain after he is no longer getting the mother’s drugs through the placenta. Between 2000 and 2009, the rate of pregnant mothers abusing opiates climbed from 1.19 users per 1,000 births to 5.63 users per thousand. The drugs abused by these mothers included methadone, Vicodin, Percocet, heroin and other drugs.
These babies suffered from respiratory problems, low birth weight, feeding difficulties and seizures. And of course, they were sick, miserable and in pain during the withdrawal. They cry inconsolably, have stiff, rigid muscles that won’t relax, and suffer from diarrhea and vomiting. There is an also increased risk of stillbirth when the mother uses opiates.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has published an alarmingly long list of birth defects that are associated with opioid painkillers. The list includes:
- Exposed spinal cord resulting from incomplete bone and soft tissue coverings (spina bifida)
- Buildup of fluid in the brain (hydrocephaly)
- Defects in the abdominal wall (gastroschisis)
- Several different types of heart defects
The primary opiates/opioids associated with these defects were hydrocodone, the most popular opioid of abuse, and codeine. According to the CDC: “Congenital heart defects are among the most common birth defects, affecting nearly 1% of U.S. births, and are the main contributor to infant death attributable to birth defects.”
If you get the impression that the abuse of prescription drugs is risky for other reasons than just the possibility of overdose, you would be right. Tragically, the deterioration that occurs when a person begins abusing drugs blinds them to the danger they are in. The greatest safety is in never starting to abuse the drugs because once a person starts, it is difficult or seemingly impossible to quit.
If you know someone who is abusing these drugs, let them know of these dangers so they can perhaps make a more educated decision to quit. And if they can’t quit, then you both know that the best solution is an effective rehab that restores their ability to make the right choices in life.