A recent newspaper article reported that, according to NHS Digital figures, the prescriptions for powerful opioid painkillers have doubled from 12 million to 24 million in the past decade… and in the US, addiction to these painkillers are now at epidemic levels.
In fact, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, 259 million prescriptions were written for opioids in 2012 – more than enough to give every American adult their own bottle of pills.
A crisis causing heartbreak
Painkiller addiction has become such a big problem that drug overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death in the US. Based on statistics from the US National Institute of Drug Abuse, accidental drug overdoses accounted for 52,404 deaths, with 20,101 of those deaths related to prescription painkillers, and 12,990 linked to heroin.
The disturbing fact is that 80 per cent of heroin users start out on prescription opioids. And one example of how these painkillers can destroy lives is the story of Stephany Gay and her sister, Ashley:
At the age of 16, Stephany started to suffer from kidney stones and was prescribed the powerful opioid painkillers, OxyContin and Vicodin. Stephany had never done illegal drugs before, but soon after picking up her first prescription she developed a full-blown addiction to these painkillers.
When Stephany confided in her mother she was urged to see a doctor. And instead of offering her help, Stephany’s doctor sent her home with a prescription for a different opioid painkiller, Percocet.
Soon, Stephany offered her younger sister, Ashley, opioids for headaches and insomnia. By the time Stephany’s doctor stopped prescribing her opioids after suspecting overuse, both sisters were trapped in their addiction and turned to heroin to get their fix.
The sisters snorted heroin for a year before experimenting with a needle. After this, the downward spiral for both sisters was unstoppable. Stephany lost everything including custody of her young daughter. Ashley, sadly overdosed on heroin and died alone in a hotel room.
And don’t think that the addiction to painkillers is a problem unique to the US. After the release of the latest UK figures by NHS Digital, doctors have warned about the numbers of people in Britain who may be addicted to opioid drugs. Recent estimates suggest over 192,000 patients could be dependent.
Harry Shapiro of the DrugWise information service warned that the growing number of powerful painkiller prescriptions was leading to a public health disaster. He added: “People are not staggering around the streets and buying dodgy drugs off dealers, they are getting painkillers. It’s a problem hidden in plain sight – a problem in every GP surgery and pain specialist clinic.”
A leading psychiatrist with Mersey Care NHS Trust, Yasir Abbasi, said: “Being dependent or addicted to prescribed painkillers can lead towards a slippery slope of illicit behaviour, which can pave the way for hard-core drugs. There are not enough non-pharmacological interventions available to reduce our reliance on opioid medication.”
It’s heart breaking and horrifying to think that in America opioid-related deaths are higher than deaths caused by car crashes. And while we do have a different and stricter drug prescription system in the UK, it’s clear that the potential for people to get addicted to painkillers is one that shouldn’t be ignored.
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Opioid Addiction, published online by American Society of Addiction Medicine, asam.org/docs/default-source/advocacy/opioid-addiction-disease-facts-figures.pdf
What is heroin?, published online by the National Institute of Drug Abuse, drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/heroin
‘Unnecessary’ painkillers could leave thousands addicted, doctors warn, published online, theguardian.com
Documentary Unveils America’s Pharma-Driven Opioid Crisis and the Heartbreak It’s Causing Families, published online, http://articles.mercola.com