According to reports from the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), a third of the first-time drug users recorded in 2009 began abusing substances with dangerous prescription pills like Vicodin and OxyContin. Further, the widespread misuse of prescriptions has been classified in the United States as an epidemic, taking more lives annually than heroin and cocaine combined.
That said, a number of doctors and experts within the medical community hold fast that prescription opioids hold tremendous value to patients suffering with chronic, severe and unmanageable pain conditions. While prescription medications provide much-needed relief to some, thousands of others find themselves addicted to these powerful painkillers or, worse, experiencing accidental overdoses and death.
Can prescription addiction be prevented?
Preventing Prescription Addiction
The all too familiar story of patient X, Y or Z becoming hooked on their pain meds has developed as an issue of serious concern to healthcare providers. Whether self-medication or mere physical tolerance (increasing dosages) is to blame, it is clear that prescription opioids have made a name for themselves in the field of public health and disease prevention.
How does prescription addiction start?
Prescription misuse and unsupervised or excessive consumption can lead to addiction in a number of different ways.
Example 1: A patient injures his/her back and is prescribed a low-dose opioid (such as OxyContin) to manage the pain. After taking the prescription for a week or so, the patient’s persistent back pain necessitates a prescription refill. After several weeks of opioid consumption, moderate signs of dependency and withdrawal begin to manifest. Within 8 weeks, this patient could find himself/herself addicted to opioids, requiring the pills in order to prevent feeling sick or experiencing severe withdrawal.
Example 2: A dental procedure causes a patient moderate pain in the jaw, necessitating a Vicodin prescription for the pain. The patient takes a couple and stores the rest in his/her medicine cabinet. Several weeks later in a disrelated incident, the patient begins to self-medicate with the remaining Vicodin for back pain or other discomforts that are manifesting. He/she proceeds to take the Vicodin which temporarily stops the back pain, however the patient eventually develops the habit of taking the opioid a regular basis to resolve other aches and pains, soon feeling like they need the medication to feel normal. Addiction can form in this kind of situation without the patient even realizing it until severe withdrawal sets in.
To prevent such situations from forming:
- Give your prescription to a family member to hold onto.
- When finished with your painkillers, responsibly dispose of remaining pills with local drug disposal programs.
- Talk to your doctor about low dosage options.
- Research alternative pain management options which could help with your condition, such as chiropractic care or holistic nutrition.
Raising Awareness About Opioid Abuse and Dependency
Because of the highly addictive nature of prescription drugs, it is extremely important that we continue to raise awareness on the issue of prescription addition. The mixed drug toxicity of opioids with alcohol or drugs can be fatal. As such, raising awareness and educating youth and adults can actually save lives.
Thankfully, more and more agencies, healthcare providers and patients are aware of the need for responsible prescribing and anti-addiction strategies to combat this issue. The ONDCP’s Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention Plan includes a variety of additional key components:
- Proper Medication Disposal
Talk to your local educators, doctors and loved ones about the importance of education, watchful and responsible prescription monitoring as well as disposal of leftover pills.
Learn more about the efforts of the ONDCP by visiting their official website.