Abuse of prescription painkillers has become a significant public health issue in the United States, and around the world. In the last ten years, the number of deaths connected to prescription painkiller overdoses in women increased by 400%. Also in the past ten years, the number of male fatalities associated with prescription drug overdose increased by 250%. Additionally, prescription drug abuse among teenagers ranks only behind marijuana. In 2012, it was estimated that health care providers in the U.S. wrote 259 million opiate prescriptions.
Prescription painkillers are very powerful substances and belong to a class of drugs known as opioids. Opioids interfere with the nervous system’s transmission of the nerve signals we perceive as pain. Some examples of these types of drugs are Oxycontin, Percocet, Vicodin, Darvon, Dilaudid, Demerol, Lorcet, and Fentanyl. One factor that contributes to opiate abuse is the fact that the majority of opiates are prescribed by a physician. While these drugs can be therapeutic, millions of Americans buy opiates off the street. Without a prescription or professional supervision, opiate use can be extremely dangerous and life-threatening. Because of the potential for overdose, it is important to know your options if you need help.
Getting Off Prescription Painkillers
Attempting to suddenly stop using prescription painkillers can be extremely dangerous. Both the physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms have the potential to be extremely uncomfortable. Detoxification in a controlled, and closely monitored inpatient setting, can help ease the withdrawal symptoms. Detox programs aim to reduce the amount of discomfort until the patient is stable enough to transition into an formal inpatient treatment program. Detox programs for prescription drug abuse can take place in a variety of settings: hospitals, clinics, drug treatment facilities, and psych wards.
Formal Drug Treatment
Drug treatment programs allow those who are struggling with addiction to receive intensive counseling and therapy. Ideally, treatment programs are conducted within a residential facility that is staffed by experienced, licensed, and empathetic staff members. The most effective programs last 90 or more days. However, shorter programs can last anywhere from 7 to 28 days, and, are also available. These programs are best fitted for those with limited insurance, no insurance, or limited to no income. With the passage of the Affordable Health Care Act (ACA), substance abuse treatment is covered under most insurance plans; and, those who were previously uninsured can receive the needed care and treatment.
Opioid withdrawal is difficult to endure, and is a contributing factor for relapse and continued abuse. Medications can be used to help with withdrawal symptoms. Using these types of medications ease the patient out of physical dependence. Some examples of common medications used to help ease withdrawal and promote recovery are Methadone, Suboxone, and Clonodine. There are also “rapid detox” programs, which claim to accelerate the detox period. The use of medication in drug or alcohol treatment and detox settings should be closely monitored. These replacement-type drugs need to be prescribed and administered under close medical supervision.
Therapy and Support Groups
For long-term recovery from prescription painkiller abuse, mutual help support groups such as NA (Narcotics Anonymous) can be an essential foundation. Additionally, there are certain types of therapies that may be beneficial including cognitive behavioral therapy.