There are many dangerous substances to which an individual can become addicted. In fact, there are even many behaviors that have been found to have a high potential for addiction. The substance or behavior to which one develops a dependency is based on a number of different factors, including prior exposure to the abuse of a particular substance or behavior as well as accessibility and perceptions that one substance offers more benefit than others.
Although there’s not an addictive substance that doesn’t entail some level of danger, there are some that are often identified as being much more harmful than others. The following will serve as a concise overview of painkiller addiction, including the characteristics of painkillers compared to other types of medication, how the painkiller epidemic started, and other important facts and statistics regarding painkiller addiction.
What Exactly is a Painkiller?
To the layman—or those individuals who have minimal personal experience with prescription pharmaceuticals—the terms “opiate,” “opioid,” and “painkiller” seem to be used interchangeably to refer to the same chemical substances. However, despite the widespread use of each term and the slight degree of overlap, they don’t each refer to the same thing indefinitely. The most understandable explanation that will help individuals to distinguish the terms would be to start at the top and work downward.
Anything that is molecularly similar to the opium obtained from the opium poppy would be considered an opiate; the most common names in the opiate class include actual opium, morphine, heroin, and codeine. Opioids are synthetic derivatives that produce opiate-like effects and, thusly, are the painkillers that have entered such widespread use.
Painkillers don’t need as much defining as they are the prescribed medications that individuals take to alleviate chronic pain. Common painkillers include oxycodone (OxyContin and Percocet), hydrocodone (Vicodin and Zohydro), fentanyl, and many others.
The Start of an Epidemic
The most well-known painkiller that is often attributed to initiating society’s infatuation with opiates is oxycodone, which was marketed under the name OxyContin. After being put on the market in the 1990s, OxyContin appeared to be the savior of the healthcare industry. The drug treated chronic pain more efficiently than virtually any other drug and, due to only short-term trials and the minimal clinical data at the time, was seen as having a relatively low risk for abuse or potential for dependency. Physicians began prescribing the drug quite liberally, which made it easy for people to obtain the drug legally.
Physicians began prescribing the drug quite liberally, which made it easy for people to obtain legally as the popularity and demand for powerful painkillers continued to grow. In response to this rapid popularity, more pharmaceutical companies were developing their own painkillers, which resulted in a number of different opioid variations hitting the market in a short time. Over the course of a decade, the rate at which physicians prescribed painkillers tripled.
However, although painkillers were quite effective in alleviating patients’ pain, they also quickly discovered that the drug—and many others like it—could be abused recreationally. Law enforcement began responding to reports of pharmacy robberies in which the perpetrators would ask only for OxyContin and Percocet while some counties estimated that painkillers and painkiller addiction became the motivation for as much as 80 percent of local crime.
In a very short period of time, painkiller addiction became an epidemic. However, due to how easy it had been to obtain them, a high percentage of the painkillers that individuals would get via prescriptions would be sold on the streets, making them more accessible to even more people. At the point when the term “painkiller epidemic” was first being used to describe the alarmingly high rates of dependency on prescription pain medications, it was estimated that a minimum of 2.1 million Americans were regularly abusing painkillers.
Painkiller Addiction: What the Numbers Tell Us
With painkiller abuse being an international concern, a number of pharmaceutical companies made changes to the formulas of many painkillers in order to make them more resistant to abuse while a number of policy changes were put in place to prevent individuals from getting painkiller prescriptions that they don’t actually need. However, even with the decline in the rate of painkiller abuse, there is still an alarmingly high percentage of individuals abusing painkillers today.
According to a report from 2011, more than 80 percent of the world’s supply of painkillers are consumed in the United States, which holds only 5 percent of the global population. It was also found that of the 78,000 drug-related deaths that occurred around the world in 2010, more than half were attributed to the abuse of painkillers. Moreover, a possible risk group was identified as males aged 20 to 29 and who represented more than two-thirds of the 78,000 worldwide deaths.
There have been many who have suggested theories as to why or how the painkiller epidemic progressed to such unfortunate highs, both nationally and worldwide. Some have suggested that the advent of OxyContin resulted in a cultural shift in perceptions of healthcare. In particular, since patients are aware of the existence of powerful pain medications and the recent history of physicians being quick to prescribe them, most individuals feel entitled to having any and all pain they experienced treated with maximum efficacy and, if applicable, using the most powerful medications that are available. In other words, patients have begun to feel they are entitled to have their pain eliminated.
However, the expectation of receiving opioid painkillers for any type of pain doesn’t explain why more than 52 million Americans over the age of 12 have admitted to using prescription drugs non-medically in their lifetimes; of those, 6.1 million have admitted to having abused painkillers at least once in the past month. Studies have also identified adolescents and teens as being one of the highest risk groups for painkiller abuse with 52 percent of teens admitting to abusing prescription drugs due to their availability and accessibility and 51 percent believing that painkiller abuse is less illegal as abusing other illicit drugs like cocaine and heroin.
Another major danger to painkiller addiction is that, due to the changes that have resulted in a slow decline of painkiller abuse, many of the individuals who become addicted to painkillers will likely end up switching to heroin when they find themselves unable to obtain painkillers as this has proven to be the trend. As such, painkiller addiction remains a major concern to society as we continue trying to reduce the high rates of dependency that individuals have to heroin, painkillers, and other dangerous substances.
Leave Addiction Behind — Let Drug Treatment Center Help
Although painkiller addiction has continued to be a major concern, it’s far from being the only dangerous substance to which alarming numbers of individuals have become addicted. If you or someone you love is suffering from chemical dependency and would benefit from learning more about recovery programming, Drug Treatment Center Finder can help. We have a team of recovery specialists who can match individuals to the treatments and programs that will allow them to return to lives of health and happiness, leaving addiction firmly behind them. Call today at 855-619-8070 to begin the journey to sobriety.