Drug-related deaths totaled 183,000 in 2012. Opioid painkiller overdose cases were the largest category. This isn’t just an American issue, either– those figures come from a compilation of statistics taken worldwide. 2005 saw 22,400 drug overdose deaths in America alone, with nearly 40% of those deaths due to painkillers. What is it about painkillers that make them so likely to be abused to the point of an overdose?
How Painkiller Overdose Begins
In a perfect world, people would use only drugs for which they had prescriptions and would stop once their prescriptions were used up. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case:
- People were letting others use their prescription drugs.
- Selling medication instead of taking it.
- Stealing medication from a friend or family member.
- “Doctor shopping”– visits multiple physicians and pharmacies to get several prescriptions filled at once.
At the end of the day, no matter how they end up in user’s hands, prescription drugs including depressants, painkillers, and antidepressants are responsible for more drug abuse deaths every year than cocaine, heroin, and amphetamines combined.
How Tolerance Leads to Addiction
Heroin was once used as an over-the-counter painkiller. In 1895, the Bayer company gave diacetylmorphine the name “heroin” due to its “heroic” ability to dull pain. It’s also worth remembering that people abuse prescription painkillers because they work. They dull pain and produce feelings of euphoria.
Unfortunately, while they’re doing this, they can also cause the body to develop a tolerance. Drug abusers may use painkillers the first time, then spend the rest of their time trying to capture the feeling of their first high. Meanwhile, they can end up taking more and more of the drug to achieve the same effect as they did initially. In the end, they may take too much and trigger a potentially fatal painkiller overdose.
The Hallmarks of Addiction
Many drug abusers are high-functioning. In other words, you may not be able to tell that they abuse painkillers by looking at or talking to them. That said, there are some signs of addiction that both users and those around them may notice:
- Inability to stop taking the drug.
- Taking the drug despite the health problems, it is causing them.
- The drug may dictate their social and recreational activities.
- Financial hardship related to maintaining their supply of the drug.
- Socially withdrawn or secretive behavior.
It’s important to remember that not everyone who abuses painkillers started out that way. A large proportion of people who develop an addiction to painkillers does so after using a legal prescription they legitimately obtained from their doctor.
What to Do
Drug users attempt to overcome this problem themselves, out of fear or shame. The trouble is, not only is it difficult to kick a drug habit by oneself, it can be very dangerous. Withdrawal symptoms may be intense, including shaking, vomiting, hallucinations, loss of appetite, fever, seizures, and more. Drug withdrawal may even become life-threatening.
Drug users should consider enrolling in inpatient drug treatment before painkiller overdose strikes their life. This step will place them in the care of competent doctors that can treat the physical and mental symptoms of substance abuse and withdrawal.
Removing patients from the people and places that might be encouraging their addiction is a plus. In this way, they heal without the pressure to continue using. In the end, patients get the kind of compassionate care that they need to make ending their drug abuse a permanent lifestyle change.
Addictions are also lifelong battles– even if someone stops abusing drugs, it’s not possible to “cure” an addiction– but good inpatient drug abuse treatment help patients develop a drug-free lifestyle.
If you need more information on painkiller overdose or if you are seeking a treatment program for yourself or a loved one, call our toll-free number today.