Opiate Use on the Rise

April 22, 2013

Which class of drugs is the fastest growing in terms of use? In recent years that distinction belongs to opiates, or prescription painkillers, as they are known more commonly. The opiates we are familiar with are the narcotic pain killers such as oxycodone/ acetaminophen (Percocet), hydrocodone/acetaminophen (Vicodin), ocycodone (Oxycontin), and many others. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) the incidence rate or the number of new cases of prescription painkillers reported has increased faster than all other drugs combined. While the use of cocaine continues to decline each year, the use of opiates is heading in the other direction. Approximately 7 million users of psychotherapeutic drugs were identified in the most recent survey. The shocking number is that over 20,000 overdose deaths in 2008 involved a prescription drug.

There is no one reason for this increase, but one factor is the increased use by baby boomers as they age and struggle with issues as arthritis and other painful maladies. Too often our health system resorts to prescribing painkillers instead of finding homeopathic remedies. And the pharmaceutical industry adds pressure to physicians to prescribe their brand of painkiller. We live in a society that looks too often at quick fixes to problems rather than finding a systemic holistic approach.

Opiates are very effective in treating pain and inflammation but are highly addictive. One has to use prescription painkillers carefully and within the prescribed limit and not overuse or misuse them. The potential for abuse is high and all too often people with no prior substance abuse history get hooked. Pain is a very subjective experience where one person can tolerate pain at a higher level than another; we all have different pain thresholds. The process of addiction looks something like this: the body craves more of the substance to achieve the desired effect and the individual uses more of the drug over time to avoid the painful process of withdrawal which is uncomfortable though not life threatening.

What happens if you or a family member or friend gets addicted to opiates? Addiction is treatable with a combination of therapy, self-help groups and some medications known to be helpful in the recovery process. It is important to stress that there is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to a treatment plan. Each client needs to be assessed to determine which combination of the possible options is best suited to that individual. One factor that has been proven to create a positive outcome is the support of family members. Clients who report a supportive atmosphere at home do much better in treatment than those with little or no family support. Addiction has long been called a family illness in which every member of the family is affected by the drug abuse or alcoholism of one member, thus, it makes sense that the family ‘recover’ from the illness together.

If you or a family member or friend is experiencing difficulties with managing the effects of misusing or abusing prescription painkillers, please contact a mental health provider who specializes in addictive disorders as soon as possible.

William F. Coffey, MSS, LCSW is a Senior Staff Therapist is the Center City and Voorhees Offices and can be reached at 215-382-6680 ext. 7008.