Thanks to the candor of subjects interviewed in a new survey about painkillers, we now have even further evidence of just how addictive opioids are. What’s disturbing is that while most said their doctors warned them of the potential for addiction, they did not discuss how to wean their patients off the drugs to keep that from happening.
It’s further affirmation that people addicted to painkillers, and even those who then progressed to heroin, ended up that way not due to moral failing, but because of inadequate plans to prevent addiction. The lack of planning is difficult to grasp given what we now know about the powerful grip of opioids.
- Took the painkillers “for fun” or “to get high.” (34 percent)
- Took them to deal with day-to-day stress (22 percent)
- Took them to “relax or relieve tension” (12 percent)
Almost all the subjects also said they took the painkillers to relieve pain, but that they listed these other concurrent reasons shows how painkillers are being abused.
The survey, co-sponsored by the Washington Post and Kaiser Family Foundation, included telephone interviews with more than 800 people age 18 or older. More than 600 said they took strong prescription painkillers themselves, while just under 200 said a household member was taking the painkillers.1
While almost all of the long-term users said they began by getting the painkillers from their doctor, only a third of their doctors discussed with them a plan for getting off the medications.
One in five of those surveyed said they have known or suspected that someone else was stealing, using or selling their painkillers. Another 17 percent said they themselves were taking painkillers not prescribed for them, and 14 percent said they shared their painkillers with a family or friend.
Are Opioids Like Giving Candy to a Baby?
The National Institute of Drug Abuse offers plenty of information on its website intended to help people spot loved ones who may be abusing painkillers or other drugs. These include the following:
- Taking the medication for longer than what was originally intended (for example, after a broken bone heals or for several weeks after a surgery)
- They have mentioned they want to get off the pills, but can’t
- They frequently admit to cravings – “I need a pain pill”
- Responsibilities at work, home or school are suddenly being neglected
- They begin to cancel social engagements and other appointments
- They begin taking higher doses of the drug than what was originally prescribed
- They take the drugs when they become irritable or nervous (telltale signs of withdrawal)2
The good news is that help is available. Quality treatment, which also addresses possible co-occurring mental disorders, can lead to lasting recovery. There even is medication available that eases the inevitably painful physical withdrawals that opioid addicts face.
‘Heroes in Recovery’ Share Stories of Victory Over Painkillers
On the website for Heroes in Recovery, a grassroots recovery community, many recovering addicts and their loved ones share their stories of triumph over painkillers. One such person is “Nate I.”
“Nate was heading for a professional career as a baseball player when he became injured and things took a turn,” Heroes in Recovery shares. “He was a college baseball player, and the need for a reconstructive surgery on his shoulder due to a severe injury introduced him to pain medication. Nate became addicted to pain pills that were prescribed by his doctors. That’s what caused him to change from a pretty straight and narrow kid all the way through high school into an addict that he later became.”3
Nate went to Las Vegas to treatment for 30 days, according to his story on Heroes in Recovery. “He realized that there is no way to go back to the place he lived, the people he knew and the life he lived for so long. He decided to go for sober living and intensive outpatient therapy in Dana Point, California.”
Nate has now been sober for several years. “Nate is so happy today that he got his life back and gets up in the morning without being consumed about the idea of drugs and alcohol,” Heroes in Recovery reports. “He gained new friends and relationships, a life in California he enjoys and has found his spirituality.”
Ashley B. shared her story of painkiller addiction on the Heroes in Recovery site, too. She had problems with drugs and alcohol off and on for years, and when she left her daughter’s dad, the problems came roaring back. “It wasn’t long before I was meeting my friends at the bar for the ‘one’ drink that progressed to three, to four and a shot and so on,” she explains. “I was introduced to narcotic painkillers at this point in my life, and the opiate lover I had been came back in full force. Before I knew it, I was hooked on opiates again. My whole life revolved around getting money to get pills, finding pills, eating the pills and repeat.”
But her story also has a happy ending. It was a victory hard-fought, however. “I sought out a change, and I found it in the 12-Step fellowships,” she writes. “I have a solid foundation today and the tools to cope with the areas of my life that I constantly tried to control but were always out of my control. When I found a conscious contact with the higher power of my understanding, something inside of me changed forever, and I’m certain that it was my spiritual awakening.”4
1. DiJulio, B. et al. (2016, Dec. 9). The Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation Survey of Long-Term Prescription Painkiller Users and Their Household Members. Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation. Retrieved Jan. 8, 2017, from http://kff.org/other/report/the-washington-post-kaiser-family-foundation-survey-of-long-term-prescription-painkiller-users-and-their-household-members/
2. National Institute on Drug Abuse (2016, January). What to do if Your Adult Friend or Loved One has a Problem with Drugs. Retrieved Jan. 8, 2017, from https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/treatment/what-to-do-if-your-adult-friend-or-loved-one-has-problem-drugs
3. Johnson, S. (2015, Aug. 5). Nate I.: From Baseball to Recovery. Heroes in Recovery. Retrieved Jan. 8, 2017, from http://heroesinrecovery.com/stories/from-baseball-to-recovery/
4. Ashley B. (2014, Nov. 14). I could not stop my self-destructive behavior. Heroes in Recovery. Retrieved Jan. 8, 2017, from http://heroesinrecovery.com/stories/stop-self-destructive-behavior/
Written by David Heitz