Many people tend to be confused when it comes to prescription drugs like opioids and addiction. People will ask: “If the pills are prescribed to you, how is it an addiction?”
Before we dive into that question, let’s explain what opioids actually are.
If you are actively struggling with an opioid addiction, please don’t hesitate to reach out to a credentialed opioid or opiate rehab to discuss your treatment options.
The definition of opioids
Opioids are a class of drugs (natural or synthesized) that interact with the opioid receptors in our brain. This can include very potent pain medication, like oxycodone and hydrocodone, but also dangerous substances, like fentanyl and heroin (this is important to remember for later). It’s also important to note that all of these drugs are highly addictive.
Right now, we’re going to focus on the legally prescribed opioids. These drugs are typically reserved for someone in high amounts of pain, like after surgery, after breaking a bone, or while undergoing cancer treatments.
Because of the addictive nature of the drugs, it’s recommended that people are not prescribed too much, or prescribed the pills for too long.
However, in the mid-1990s, pharmaceutical companies started lobbying and making massive marketing campaigns about the safety and less addictive nature of their opioids. While they knew this was untrue, they soon misled millions of doctors and consumers into believing that there was a new miracle drug for pain.
So, doctors started prescribing opioids more, and people happily took them. It wasn’t until years later that the medical community realized something was wrong. And by then, it was too late.
The progression of opioid addiction
One of the most dangerous aspects of opioids is that after someone (quickly) becomes addicted, their tolerance for the drug goes down. It’s even been shown that their feelings of pain can increase from long-term opioid use.
So now, someone with chronic pain is experiencing even more pain. So, they go to their doctor for more pills. The doctor may concede the first or second time, but after a while they will likely stop increasing the patient’s dosage.
Now, the patient is beside themself. They’re in greater pain than ever, and they know that when they take more opioids they feel better.
So, they now start seeking out new doctors, without telling their original doctor. They explain their pain, and are prescribed more and more opioids. Now, they have an unhealthy amount of opioids at their disposal, but after a while, that pesky pain comes creeping back.
Maybe the doctors are becoming suspicious, or the patient’s work is questioning all the time off for doctor’s visits. Whatever the catalyst, let’s say the patient can’t get any more opioids from their current doctors.
Now is when an opioid addiction takes its dark turn. Law abiding, responsible adults can find themselves asking around for a dealer who can give them black market pills. Once they make a contact, they go back to them more and more often.
Then, one day, their dealer tells them that there’s a drug even better at managing their pain than the pills they’re taking. At this point, the person is so deep in their addiction and their fear of lifelong pain that they agree.
Before they know it, they’re prepping their arm and shooting up heroin.
The casualties of opioids
Can you see how easily, and quickly, the progression can be from innocent pain medication to extremely dangerous substance? Even more worrying is the fact that heroin can be mixed with loads of other substances, including fentanyl.
These unknown drug combinations may interact with other substances the person has taken, and can lead to overdose and death.
In 2019 alone, over 70,000 Americans died due to drug-related causes, the vast majority being opioids.
While medical communities are working to reverse the damage that has already been done, it’s up to us as consumers to know the risks of the substances we’re putting into our bodies, and advocate for other treatments if we’re concerned about the risks.