The alarm went off: deaths related to prescription medication in the country were close to 38,000 in 2009, exceeding motor vehicle accidents, according to new data released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The sales of the most popular prescription analgesics – Tylenol with codeine, Darvocet, Vicodin and Percocet – skyrocketed in America, and this addiction epidemic is spreading like a plague. The New York Daily News reported at the beginning of December on Federal statistics revealing that treatment for prescription painkiller abuse has increased by 430 percent over the last decade.
If a pain episode is acute enough to take you to the hospital’s ER, you’re likely to be administered narcotics. Do doctors try to find out if you have a background of addictions or mental illness? Usually not.
Even worse, current regulations are so deficient that if you get hooked on those prescription drugs, you will have relatively easy access to them and not only through the traditional channels (your doctor). Currently, controlled prescription medications can be purchased over the Internet, without a doctor’s signature.
“Psychiatrists and many primary care physicians might not be familiar with existing evidence-based guidelines for opioid prescribing or with programs designed to reduce the abuse of prescription drugs,” commented Pyschiatrist.com.
- Pain medication v. natural analgesics
The three most commonly used narcotics for pain management include morphine, meperidine and fentanyl. The effect of these drugs on pain is due to the fact that they bind with existing receptors in the body.
You might ask, why would the body come with a system of receptors ready to “marry” opioids administered by a doctor? Because the body already produces its own opiates to regulate pain: beta-endorphins, enkephalins and dynorphins. These substances act as neurotransmitters and neuromodulators.
The main difference between your natural opioids and those prescribed by your doctor is that your body’s endogenous analgesics do not produce the many undesirable side effects seen with prescription medication.
Alternative health practitioners avoid using painkillers and focus on stimulating the production of the natural substances through proper nutrition, exercise and pleasurable activities.
- From pain management to addiction
Most painkillers used today are drugs derived from the Asian poppy Palaver somniferous or are synthetic substitutes for these drugs. Indicated mostly for the management of cancer patients, narcotics are indeed effective in relieving severe pain. They are also used to relieve pre-operative anxiety, to suppress cough and stop severe diarrhea.
However, combined with alcohol or used in doses that do not take into account the size and weight or sensitivity of an individual, these drugs can suppress the ability to breath, and can induce coma and death.
While it’s true that analgesics make possible for individuals with incapacitating pain to go back to productive lives, unfortunately not all people who take prescription medications use them responsibly.
When abused – taken by someone other than the patient, or in a manner or dosage other than what was prescribed – prescription medications can produce serious adverse side effects, including addiction.
“Overall, rates of opioid analgesic misuse and overdose death are highest among men, persons aged 20–64 years, non-Hispanic whites, and poor and rural populations,” reported the CDC.
- Regulations need to include physicians, target consumers
Abuse of prescription medications in the past decade has exceeded that of all illicit drugs combined, except marijuana.
This issue has gained the attention of federal regulators, law enforcement, and the media, and it has become clear that physicians also need to sit at the table with regulators to discuss programs and strategies aimed at controlling the epidemic.
So far, priorities have focused on limiting supplies of addicting substances, and not on the doctor who prescribes or the consumer.
Florida, considered the nation’s pill mill capital, has seen in the past year police raid doctor’s offices (especially across South Florida) targeting those who illegally deal with prescription pain pills. As these offices shut down, drug users are turning up at pharmacies, which led CVS a few months ago to stop filling any prescription for drugs containing analgesics such as oxycodone.
CVS decision came after Florida enacted a new law – which went into operation earlier in 2011 – to crack down on pill mills. The law included the creation of a monitoring program that collects narcotics prescriptions in a searchable database that any doctor or pharmacist can access.
The process is not nearly done. Reuters reported on April 6, that after noticing a jump in purchases of oxycodone medication, the DEA issued inspection warrants to Walgreens’ in Jupiter, Port Richey, Oviedo, Fort Myers and Fort Pierce.