Prescription drug use is on the rise and with it comes prescription drug abuse. Celebrity headlines from Michael Jackson to Whitney Houston attest to the increasing problems and fatal results from the excessive use of and dependency upon narcotics that are legally obtained and prescribed by professionals in a field usually associated with “trust” and “security”. What is happening here? Admittedly, the scenarios involving celebrities and sports stars are extreme examples of the duel culpability between “patient” and doctor – it would appear that doctors are more apt to prescribe “unnecessary’ narcotics to people of “power” based upon their celebrity status – but the problem reaches well beyond the “ivory towers” of the rich and famous. More and more, doctors are quick to encourage drug use in a variety of situations. The intent can be related to a “temporary” fix, to an immediate issue such as the reduction of pain during a healing process, or a long-term “treatment” plan for psychological problems or chronic pain issues. The point is that once these narcotics are introduced, patients are finding it difficult to end the usage once the diagnosed problem has been dealt with. Obviously, in certain circumstances, the prolonged use of many pharmaceuticals has greatly benefited medical treatment and health care concerns. But often these treatments are turning people into addicts, with the same results that afflict illicit drug addicts from heroin users to alcoholics. One of the biggest differences here, however, is that prescription drugs are both legal and easily obtainable. Users are often convinced that the taking of these drugs is “beneficial” and necessary – and often they are. The problem rests in the possible consequences should the prolonged use of these drugs continue in an unsupervised environment. By the time the patient comes to realize his or her dependency on the drug, they may already be addicted. Initial intent may be good, but end results can be disastrous.
A number of years ago I had two of my wisdom teeth pulled. My dentist warned me that there would be some pain after the Novocain wore off but assured me that Advil would be sufficient to deal with it. Two hours later I was on the phone with the dentist, in extreme pain, demanding that he call the pharmacy and arrange for me to have a substantially greater painkiller. I was very persuasive and a few hours later I was not only no longer in pain, I was feeling “very” good. I forget the name of the narcotic that was prescribed, but I had a ten-day supply allowing me to ingest three tablets a day. For three days I awoke each morning in a certain amount of pain and took a pill before even brushing my teeth. By breakfast I was feeling “great”. On the fourth day I noticed that the morning pain was quite minimal. Regardless, I took my “medication” with the rational that there was still a twinge of pain – and my dentist did give me a ten-day supply, which I took to mean that I had to continue taking the pills. On the sixth day there was no pain in the morning. I knew that there was no more reason to continue with the narcotics, but … as I stood in front of the bathroom mirror, the prospect of NOT taking the pill made me anxious and concerned. I actually started smacking my jaw in the area of the extracted teeth in the hope of feeling some pain in order to justify another day of pill popping. Suddenly I recognized what was going on and found the strength to flush the remaining pills down the toilet. But for the next two or three days I yearned to have those pills back – even though I was experiencing NO pain whatsoever in my mouth.
The point of this brief story is to demonstrate the power of these legal and prescribed narcotics. Had I continued to take the medication I would have, perhaps, become so accustomed and dependent upon the “narcotic” effects that the period of discomfort could have persisted and, ultimately led to a perusal of more narcotic-like substances (prescribed or not) in order to attain that same “feeling” that I had experienced over those six days. This is often the path to addiction. Studies have shown that more people die from prescription drug abuse than from heroin or cocaine abuse. We tend not to dismiss or ignore the “addictions” to prescribed drugs because there is a sense of legitimacy involved since there is a doctor’s approval. The growing phenomenon of prescription drug addiction rarely garnishes the same amount of attention as those addictions we are more familiar with such as heroin, cocaine and alcohol. There seems to be much hesitation in applying the term “addiction” to a legal and doctor-approved drug. But should there be a distinction here? By making such a distinction there is the risk that many who suffer from prescription drug addiction will be more hesitant to seek assistance or even acknowledge that they may be in need of an addiction recovery plan. The continued rational based upon the initial “my doctor said it’s OK” can easily blind the “patient” to the growing addiction that is as severe and dangerous as any other narcotic addiction. If society refuses to fully appreciate this dangerous situation, little will be done to regulate the flow of prescription drugs and many lives could be destroyed as a result.
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