April 11th, 2008 04:11 EST
When Drug Abuse Starts at Home -- Painkiller Addiction
- Youth and elderly most susceptible to OxyContin and prescription painkiller addictions
- What to look for in family members at risk
After several years of battling back pain and undergoing regular surgeries, John Simons became addicted to painkillers.
After a two-week stay in the hospital where he was prescribed the powerful painkiller OxyContin, Simons continued to use the drug against his doctors' orders, secretly obtaining a steady supply.
Within a year of first being prescribed the painkiller, he found himself in drug rehab. Simons was only 21 years old.
An alumni of The Pat Moore Foundation, Simons (whose real name is withheld to protect his identity) explains he was taking OxyContin everyday and by himself. His life revolved around the getting and using of this powerful painkiller.
Simons is not alone, he falls into a group - patients prescribed drugs who later become addicted - who are most susceptible to abusing painkillers. The other group is people, including the young, who begin using painkillers for recreational, and not medical, reasons.
An estimated 5.2 million people used prescription pain relievers in 2006 for non-medical reasons, up from 4.7 million in 2005, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. That's more than twice the 2.4 million people DHHS estimates use cocaine nationwide.
According to statistics compiled by the Partnership for a Drug Free America, nearly one in five teens, or a staggering 4.5 million kids age 12-19, reportedly abused prescription medications to get high last year. Despite an overall downward trend in drug use among teenagers, painkiller abuse is up, according to a White House report released late 2007.
"Opiates, a type of opioids, are a group of drugs which are medically used to relieve pain. OxyContin and Vicodin are both opiates and it is their pain relieving quality that also makes them so highly addictive," explains Phil Allen, CEO of The Pat Moore Foundation, a non-profit drug detox and treatment center in Orange County, CA, that specializes in opiate detox.
Opioids are chemicals that attach to certain receptors in the brain. They both prevent pain and stimulate the pleasure center in the brain. Those drugs that are the most effective in terms of attaching to those receptors give the most relief from pain as well as the most pleasure.
Allen explains that opiates serve a purpose and that's to deal with short-term pain. There are physicians who prescribe drugs chronically and after a while patients become habituated. Patients need more medicine to have an effect, but the pain doesn't get any better. They become dependent and if they try to stop withdrawal symptoms set in.
Having helped recovering addicts for over 12 years, Allen knows from experience that some people are more susceptible to painkiller addictions. People who are depressed, prone to anxiety or alcoholics are more likely to develop an addiction to prescription drugs like OxyContin. In fact, one of the more common conditions that lead to pain killer addiction is lower back injuries. People start using OxyContin from a prescription to relieve the pain and then they can't get off the drug.
"What makes painkillers so life shattering is that, unlike other drugs, the physical effects of addiction may not be as apparent, even to friends and family. But, the power of addiction is just as strong as any abused drug. The life of a painkiller addict is consumed with getting the drug. That becomes their entire life purpose, to the detriment of everything ... even their own lives."
The Pat Moore Foundation is a non-profit alcohol and drug rehabilitation center in Orange County, CA, that provides information, resources and treatment for people dealing with the life-shattering cycle of substance abuse and addiction. If someone needs immediate help, call 24-hours a day at (888) 342-7748 or visit us online at www.PatMooreFoundation.com.