Maybe after an accident, the doctor prescribed pain pills. Or maybe for you, they were prescribed after recovering from major surgery. Perhaps it started from chronic pain or disease. However pain pill addiction started for you, it was probably from a prescription bottle. It may have looked just like any other on the outside, but inside were pills that contained some form of opioid with powerful pain-blocking capacities. Unfortunately, that pain relief comes with a price tag, and that price tag can often be addiction.
The Pills That Began an Opioid Epidemic
Initially, opioids were primarily prescribed for the treatment of acute pain or for the terminally ill. In the early 1990s, pharmaceutical companies promoted the medications as safe, and doctors were pressured to manage pain better as well. This led to a staggering increase in the number of prescriptions for opioid-based pain medications, which led to considerably more addiction and misuse.
Thirty years later, hundreds of thousands of people have died from opioid overdoses, and millions have become addicted to opioid-based drugs. Opioid addiction from pain medication has led to a significant increase in the use of heroin and fentanyl, illegal opioid-based drugs which are unregulated. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 80% of heroin users first used prescription pain pills. This national health crisis is known as the opioid epidemic.
Why Does Pain Relief Lead to Powerful Addiction?
Opioid-based painkillers are different from other types of pain medications. The drug blocks pain by attaching itself to nerve receptors in the brain and nervous system. This is an incredibly effective way to block acute or chronic pain, but it can also cause feelings of pleasure due to the increased levels of dopamine that are released. The brain’s reaction is powerful, and the reward system in the brain can develop a physiological need for the drug very quickly.
The more pain pills you take, and the longer you take them, the brain’s reward system changes and creates a more frequent and intense demand for the drug, even though the reaction becomes less effective or pleasurable. This opioid tolerance becomes a dependence and then an addiction. At some point, the withdrawal symptoms that occur when the opioid levels are not maintained or increased become more intense as well, making it even more difficult to stop taking the pills. What began as pain relief becomes a powerful addiction.
Heroin or Fentanyl: When the Pills Are No Longer Enough
Due to the opioid epidemic, pain pills have become harder to get legally, and people often turn to illegal sources for the drugs. As addiction increases, pills alone do not maintain the level of opioids in the body or provide enough relief from pain or withdrawal. That is when people turn to heroin or fentanyl, which offer both greater potency of opiates for less cost than pills as well as more health risks. The more powerful the opioid, the more likely that you will develop a fentanyl or heroin addiction.
Not only can heroin or fentanyl cause devastating health issues in the short and long-term, but due to their illicit nature, you never quite know what is in the drugs you are ingesting. Those who manufacture illegal drugs may mix other drugs in, causing serious complications or even death.
Can I Really Overdose on Pain Pills?
When pain medications are prescribed by doctors and used carefully as instructed, the risks are weighed out and your health is carefully monitored. However, due to the incredibly addictive nature of opioid pain medications, the pills are often misused and can lead to overdose.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, deaths due to opioid overdose made up over 70% of the 71,000 overdose deaths in the United States in 2019. Since 1999, over 841,000 people have died from drug overdose. These are all deaths that could have been prevented.
Getting Help for Addiction to Pain Medications
You do not need to become a statistic of the opioid epidemic. Even the health risks of opioid abuse, including fentanyl or heroin addiction, are dangerous. Addiction to pain pills is common, but so is treatment for opioid addiction. Recovery may be hard work, but the rewards can be lifesaving. Just like you sought medical help for your pain, you can also seek medical help for addiction. With advances in treatment such as medication-assisted treatment (MAT), withdrawal treatment for opioids is more manageable, and success in recovery more attainable. That initial bottle of pills may have created an unintended addiction, but you can intentionally choose to get help.
The excessive prescription of opioid-based pain pills has created an opioid epidemic that has left a nation crippled by pain medication, fentanyl, and heroin addiction. With more than 30 years of experience in treating addiction, our staff members at DiscoveryMD offer compassion and wisdom to guide you through the treatment process and help you recover from the powerful addiction of opioids. Contact us today to find out more about how you can overcome addiction and withdrawal symptoms caused by pain pills.