The Prescription Opioid and Heroin Crisis

Opioid Heroin Crisis

Pain is something we all experience in some way shape or form throughout our lives and we always want it gone as soon as possible.

When you are living with severe pain from an injury, during surgery recovery, or from a disease or illness, you can reach a stage where you are desperate for relief.

Many doctors will offer their patients pain pills, sometimes quite potent ones like oxycodone and morphine, and despite their best attempts to not rely on the medication many people end up using these pills and this can open the door to the path of prescription opioid abuse and can actually lead to heroin use in extreme cases. 

The Dangers of Prescription Pain Pills

“People often assume prescription pain relievers are safer than illicit drugs because they are medically prescribed; however, when these drugs are taken for reasons or in ways or amounts not intended by a doctor, or taken by someone other than the person for whom they are prescribed, they can result in severe adverse health effects including addiction, overdose, and death, especially when combined with other drugs or alcohol” (

While most patients would be told about the risks of using other medications or consuming alcohol while taking potent pain killers, some patients ignore these warnings and do it anyway.

Others want faster or better relief from their pain and will use more than prescribed or will mix medications together in order to get the relief and ‘good feeling’ they are missing because of their pain.

These are all very dangerous behaviors and will open the door to opioid addiction, which can quickly move from pain pills to illegal drugs such as heroin.

Modern medicine had done wonders for mankind and has extended and bettered our lives in many ways – but only when medications are used as they are intended and when the individual using those medicines is not prone to problems with addiction.

The issue of pain pill addiction is often not mentioned or is glossed over during patient consultations because doctors and medical professionals are unwilling to discuss the negative side of these pills or do not want to dissuade their patients.

Many people falsely assume that drug addiction and abuse happens over time and only people already abusing alcohol or drugs will have a problem with addiction- this is a dangerous falsehood.

Addiction can happen quickly — within a few weeks — and depends upon the specific drug.

People prescribed strong opioid pain pills can reach the level of overuse within a week of starting the medication and can be addicted in a week to ten days deepening on how much they were taking.

 Symptoms to be Looking Out For

According to the Mayo Clinic, the physical symptoms and warning signs of prescription opioid painkillers addiction include these physical ones:

  • Stomach issues- flareups of constipation, bloating, gas, and nausea that is unusual
  • Lethargy- lack of energy, sleeping a lot, not feeling rested, unusual sleep patterns
  • Slowed breathing- breathing issues, especially when sleeping, is common
  • Mental issues- confusion, lack of focus, memory loss, slowed reactions, poor thinking
  • Poor Coordination- fumbling, tripping, falling, unbalanced, and dropping things
  • Increased pain- abusers need higher doses of their mediation to get the relief they want

There are also mental and behavioral signs that while more difficult to notice and pinpoint they can also be strong indications that opium use or addiction may be occurring:

  • Theft and Lying- stealing money for drugs, stealing other’s medications, and lying in order to get money or medication
  • Habit Change- suddenly doing things they didn’t do before or no longer doing things they once enjoyed
  • Poor Personal Choices- making poor choices about their finances, work and school activities, and having relationship issues
  • The High Effect- seeming to be ‘high’ with the appearance of being more energetic or revved up or overly sedated and apathetic
  • Changing Doctors Often- known as doctor hopping, someone who is going to multiple doctors to get more prescriptions

Many doctors will offer their patients pain pills, and though this is done with the best of intentions, it can quickly lead to the downward spiral of opioid addiction and heroin use. 

How to Avoid Opioid Addiction With Pain Killers

Every day thousands of people start taking pain killers and thousands more become addicted to them to some degree.

“Recently, the Courier-Journal, a Kentucky news source, spoke to Karsten Kueppenbender, M.D., an addiction psychiatrist at the Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital.

She recognized that while certain painkillers can be highly addictive, there is still also a legitimate need for these pills in some cases.

Researchers from Harvard have also pointed out that [most] people who use prescription painkillers do not end up having a problem with them.

This is comforting but when you consider how many people do take strong pain pills every day even a small percentage of that is a pretty big number.

And when you consider that pain pill addiction is often how opioid addiction begins this is an even more terrifying truth.

Here are some ways you can take pain pills safely in order to minimize your risk of becoming addicted:

  1. Follow Exact Instructions
    The single best thing you can do to avoid becoming addicted to prescription painkillers is to follow the dosage and duration of use exactly as you doctor has instructed. People should only take potent opioid pain killers for the prescribed duration of time and at the dosage level their doctor ordered-doing more is asking for problems with addition down the road! Never ever take more or extend use without asking your doctor.
  2. Don’t Avoid Pain Pills
    When people are concerned about becoming addicted to potent pain pills many people think it is best to avoid the pills until the pain reaches a level when they can no longer function without some relief. However, this could lead to a situation where the normal dose does not provide relief fast enough and they start taking more in order to end the pain. It is a better idea to simply take these pills as recommended.
  3. Know Addiction’s Warning Signs
    One thing you can do to help guard against addiction when it comes to opioid based pain pills is to be educated about the warning signs. When you know what to look for you are more likely to keep tabs on yourself and your loved ones and look for signs that there may be a problem developing. Talk to your health care provider about the signs you need to be watching for and what they suggest for avoiding opioid addiction.
  4. Do You Still Need the Pills?
    In almost all cases, people who are addicted to painkillers use them even though they are not in pain and have no actual reason to use the pills anymore. This may seem pretty obvious, but it can be tough for some people to truly know if there is pain or not as their body craves the opioids and will give them the feeling of pain as the withdrawal symptoms begin to kick in. This is what makes pain pill addiction so hard to diagnose at times.
  5. Look for Alternative Options
    For individuals who are already at risk for addictions because of problems with drugs and alcohol currently or in the past they may be better off avoiding these strong opioid pain pills all together. These individuals should talk to their doctor about their concerns and the potential for addiction and see what other options there are for a less risky medication or a more natural method for dealing with their pain.

Every day thousands of people start taking pain killers and thousands more become addicted to them to some degree.

This is due to the highly addictive nature of strong opioid-based pain pills and the likelihood of an individual becoming addicted to the reaction these medications cause in the body.

The stronger the medication the stronger the addiction likelihood and the stronger the chances of negative side effects.

“Despite the risk of dependence, many surgery patients receive prescriptions for a month’s supply or more of opioid pills.

Approximately 6 percent are still using them three months or longer after their surgery, according to a study published last year in JAMA Surgery.

The opioid crisis is huge and affects everyone, rich and poor, male and female, folks who live in urban areas as well as rural areas. It’s got to stop, and reducing opioid use during recovery after surgery is a big part of the solution” (MedicineNet).

Treatment Options for Opioid Addiction 

Opioid addiction goes beyond a simple physical dependence on drugs and requires specialized treatment for opioid addiction.

Even after someone has gone through the process of detoxing and suffering through withdrawal symptoms, physical dependence may have already taken root.

When this is the case it is much easier for someone to relapse and start using opioids again.

This situation makes it so that ongoing, nearly irresistible urges are almost constant and the recovering addict struggles daily with the urge to start using opioids again.

Several counseling therapies are available and it is important to remember that no method is best or a guaranteed success because so much of recovery depends on personal and environmental factors.

With that in mind, let’s look at some of treatment for opioid addictions that are available:

Individual vs. Group Therapy for Addiction

While any counseling is better than having nothing at all, group therapy is most commonly recommended over individual therapy options.

In group therapy, you are challenged and supported by multiple people so you may be better prepared to resist temptations when they arise.

Individual therapy however, can be helpful for those who have trouble opening up and being honest among others.

Receiving one on one treatment can also help when there are other conditions that accompany the addiction- OCD, depression, anxiety, etc.

Outpatient vs. Residential Treatment for Opioid Addiction

Residential therapy gives the opioid addicted person a temporarily escape from the situations and stimuli that caused them to start the addictive behavior.

A person seeking residential treatments option will leave their home and jobs and often times cut off all outside communication while they are at the treatment facility.

Duration of treatment can last for a few weeks or a few months.

Outpatient treatment programs give the most options and the greatest degree of flexibility for ongoing prescription drug abuse treatment.

A person can come on a weekly or even daily basis and get short term treatment sessions to help them deal with the routine struggles as they continue on with their lives the best that they can.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Treatment Options

Cognitive behavioral therapy gives a person the tools they need to recognize moods, thoughts, and situations that may trigger addictive tendencies and make cravings even stronger.

A therapist helps the person adjust their daily lives and routines and habits so they can better avoid the triggers and temptations in the first place.

The skills learned in cognitive behavioral therapy can last a lifetime, which is why many therapists recommend this treatment option as a first choice.

The right drug abuse treatment plan will be tailored as needed to fit the unique situation, needs, and struggles of the individual.

So make sure that if you or a loved one suffered from opioid addictions you need to find the treatment for opioid addiction that works best for you and your unique situation.

And of course the best way to avoid the need for opioid addiction help is to avoid becoming addicted in the first place, so talk to family and friends and your doctor and work with them rather than against them to keep use in check.