The New Face of Addiction: Prescription Painkillers

The Washington Post reports that nearly 21% of Americans, aged 12 and older, have used prescription medication for non-medical reasons.  At the same time, we've seen more than a four-fold increase in the number of prescriptions handed out for opiate painkillers (like Percocet, Vicodin, and Oxytocin). Why are these drugs becoming more popular than illicit street drugs?  The Post article cites two reasons.  First, these drugs are available.  Users will often shop around for doctors who will provide them with extra pills with minimal hassle.  Second, there is a common misconception that these pharmaceuticals are less dangerous or addictive than street drugs.  But the reality is, they activate the same opioid receptors as heroin.

Simply cracking down the amount of drugs handed out isn't the solution.  Neither is making sweeping modifications that make it harder to get these drugs.  Many chronic pain patients rely on these medications to function, and their quality of life might suffer because of the irresponsible use of others.

It seems patient education is currently the best system for preventing addiction and abuse of prescription painkillers.  Every time another prescription for these medications is torn from a doctor's tablet, a serious conversation about the proper use and risks of abuse should follow.