Addicted to Opiates: The Staggering Impact of Prescription Painkillers

By Jerry Nelson

Prescription Addiction

An in-depth look at the types of prescription painkillers, rise in opioid overdoses and who is at risk for abusing these legal drugs.


Prescription opiates, which have been formulated to alleviate pain, continue to rise on the scale of abuse and addiction. So much so, that the Obama administration recently hosted a summit discussing the effects of prescription opiate abuse; particularly the immense number of overdoses. Simultaneously, the United Kingdom is addressing concerns of a dramatic increase of abuse with the prescription painkiller Fentanyl.

Types of Prescription Painkillers

Prescription painkillers are given to persons who have undergone a surgery, incurred an injury or suffers from chronic pain. They are generally meant for short term use; however because of their strong effects, ability to stimulate the areas of the brain that perceive pleasure and potential for a tolerance to rapidly build, they often become abused. In turn, this leads to an addiction.

Some of the most common prescription painkillers which are abused include:

Hydrocodone: Often combined with acetaminophen. Brand names include Vicodin, Lorcet or Lortab.

Oxycodone: Most commonly prescribed as OxyContin but also included in Endocet, Percocet, Percodan and Roxicet.

Morphine: Brand names may include Avinza or Kadian. It is also given intravenously.

Codeine: Often combined with paracetamol and given to people with a heavy cough.

Propoxyphene: Brand names include Darvocet, Propacet and Darvon.

Hydromorphone: Given to people in severe pain. It is sold under the name of Dilaudid.

Meperidine: A light sedative, it is sold as Demerol or Meperitab.

Painkiller Prescriptions Double in 17 Years

According to the US Center for Disease and Control, “drug overdose death rates in the United States have more than tripled since 1990 and have never been higher. In 2008, more than 36,000 people died from drug overdoses, and most of these deaths were caused by prescription drugs…14,800 were caused by prescription painkillers.”

Nicholas King, a professor of biomedical ethics at McGill University recently published a review in the American Journal of Public Health which discusses the potential contributing factors to the rise in deaths related to prescription painkillers. Dr. King says “The cause that we found the most evidence for was quite simply a massive increase in prescribing of these painkillers.”

However, this had nothing to do the with the infamous “pill mills” in states like Florida or online pharmacy shopping; rather, Dr. King and his colleagues determined the rise in prescription painkiller deaths can be linked to prescriptions having doubled over the past 17 years.

He believes that the doubling of prescription painkillers began in the late 80’s and 90’s with doctors pushing drugs like oxycodone to people who did not have serious illnesses like cancer, (which, prior to this time, was the only way to get these strong drugs) but who simply displayed moderate pain. By 2013, Canada and the U.S. consumed 99.9% of the world’s hydrocodone, 87.3% of the world’s oxycodone, 60.1% of its morphine, and 51.8% of its methadone.

It is important to note that strong opioids, like the ones being discussed in this article, are unavailable in more than 150 countries and, when they are available, they often cost more in low- and middle-income countries.

Who Is at Risk for Developing an Addiction to Prescription Opioids?

Television shows and movies may depict a drug addict as someone who is jobless, uneducated or is a minority. However, people with an addiction come from all professions, educational levels, ethnicities and backgrounds.

According to the American Pain Society, “although people with chronic pain are more likely than others to receive prescriptions for opioids, the risk of developing a painkiller addiction depends on more than just prolonged exposure to these drugs.” Moreover, people using opioids for non-medical purposes are most likely to obtain them from friends, family members or associates rather than going to a doctor for a prescription. The APS also revealed that persons who have a personal or family history of alcohol or drug abuse are more prone to developing a prescription painkiller addiction.

Apart from the aforementioned, teenagers and young adults are more likely to abuse opoids. This may be in relation to pressure these individuals often go through at school or work as well as, personal curiosity.

Finally, a group of people at risk for prescription painkiller addictions, and who often go unnoticed, are adults over the age of 65. This group is regularly prescribed opiates; often without an in-depth consultation or questions by a doctor. Moreover, these seniors may not realize the effects of taking more than the prescribed amount; thereby, they unintentionally increase their tolerance and overall use.

Getting Treatment for an Opioid Addiction

A painkiller addiction creates long term changes in the brain. People who undergo treatment at a hospital or addiction rehab will likely experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms and intense cravings. In many instances, a rehab center with treatment programs for prescription opioids will offer medications like Suboxone or methadone to ease the symptoms. Centers like Holistic Light, an addiction treatment center in Costa Rica and Panama serving patients from US, offer cognitive behavioral therapy, individual counseling, equine therapy, de-stressing activities like yoga, meditation and Tai Chi, as well as, maintaining a healthy diet are all proven to aid in the recovery of a painkiller addiction.

Rehabilitation treatment for opiate abuse and addiction can be costly; however, it is far less costly, in comparison with the cost of the addiction and continuous use of the drug itself.

Counting Coup in Recovery

By Jerry Nelson
Counting Coup in Recovery

Counting Coup in RecoveryThe Indians in North America had a ritual that was bolder than the slaying of their enemies. Warriors gained prestige by being the first to touch the enemy dead or even touching the enemy’s defensive positions. A warrior could also show his bravery by stealing the enemy’s horses. The possibility of injury or death had to be present for the act to be included on the “coup stick” which was kept as a record of brave attempts.

While usually a “coup stick” was held as the enemy was touched, a warrior could also count coup by touching the enemy with his hand or even a bow.

Americans need to learn to count coup on the enemy as well. But for us, the enemy isn’t flesh and blood. It’s inertia, narcissism and extremism.

In recovery, as we count coup on these three, we do it so that a vitality and diversity in life can shine through us. Thoreau said it best when he said, “live deliberately.” Counting coup is a method for recovering the way our basic nature used to live before we got transformed by status and possessions. Counting coup is our act of transcending a false reality so that we are released to find new ways to be free from the padlock of possessions, egos and self-centered drive. We can find ways that un-stifle our creativity and allow us to live as free, healthy people in an otherwise egocentric world. The freedom we once sought through drugs, alcohol and relationships is finally ours as we count coup.

In 21st century America, the cord which links our human-nature to mother-nature has been severed. Many of us have become puppets who wear masks of humanity but are actually blind, flesh-and-blood robots with wads of money where our brains are and people who have replaced hearts with fists. Raised in a society that is intent on destroying the world, it’s not our fault that we were raised cut-off from mother-nature and surrounded by other robots each seeking to make it to the top of the pyramid by walking over the empty shells of others. But it is our fault if we remain so.

When we walk up to and touch — count coup — our ego, our narcissism and our trending towards extremism, then we can begin to live a life of recovery.

Little Things Swing Big Doors

By Jerry Nelson
Little Things Swing Big Doors

Little Things Swing Big Doors

“Little hinges swing big doors,” W. Clement Stone

I don’t remember where I first heard that saying, but life has taught me that it is true. Life turns and changes on the smallest and seemingly inconsequential events. Occasionally a major event will intrude in our lives to set us on a different course, but usually it’s just a small, change encounter. A brief passing of a stranger. Of “being in the right place, at the right time” that brings large changes into our ordered lives.

I don’t need to list the randomness of events that can alter life’s journey. You can look back in your own existence and — if you’re honest — identify dozens of times that a chance encounter, or a serendipitous event, sent your life down a path which was different from what you were expecting.

A few years back, there was a little book called “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.” I understand the meaning and the meaning resonates with me. But in my life I’ve found there are no little events.

With all that said, what are a few of the “little things” that makes a big difference for us alcoholics? The list could be long, but here’s a couple that came to mind for you to think about.

Listening. When people listen, they are communicating. They are communicating more than what we want to hear, we’re communicating with each other that we care about the person.

Attitude. No one wants to be around a pessimist or a grouch. Everyone agrees that attitude is contagious. If we want to maintain a positive, healthy recovery, we need to remember that it starts with us. Recovery is an inside job, remember?

Consistency. We’ve been all over the map in our actions while we were drinking. Now that we’re in recovery, we need to show people that they can know what to expect from us. We need to demonstrate consistency in our values, our approach to life and much more. While sometimes, as people get used to the “recovering us,” they will be pushed and challenged some. But our family and friends do not need to be thrown back into the life of wondering what-he-will-do-next.

Trust. The more that we show we are trustworthy, the more people will trust us. The less “waffling” and the more engagement, the more — and better — communication we demonstrate, we can earn trust and become valuable to our family, our jobs and society.

The list could go on, but I hope this short list of “little things” gets you to thinking. There are big things we need to do in recovery of course, and yes we should work daily on our recovery.

But also pay attention to the little things.

Which Path

By Jerry Nelson
which path

I’m standing in the woods. In front of me are three paths. I’ve never seen the paths before, but I’ve been down all of them , in their turn, at one time in life or another. The fear of taking the wrong path keeps me from taking any path.

I’ve been standing here in this spot for a week, unable — or unwilling — to move, to make a choice, to decide on which path.

The path I’m on and the three that are in front of me aren’t real paths — they only exist in a writer’s imagination. The indecision and paralyzation is real though.

About a week ago, I got the go-ahead from Psych Central to start my own blog hosted on their website. My qualifications for this? I’m not sure there are any. Rather, I’m not sure I have any qualifications.

Continue reading… »

Welcome to One Sober Life

By John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Grappling with sobriety — and learning to live without alcohol in your life — is a one-day-at-a-time challenge for most. It’s not easy living every day, waking up, and making the decision not to drink.

What’s it like to go through that experience? How do you do it, day after day? What happens when you feel like you want to relapse? What kinds of things can help in those dark, desperate times?

That’s why I’m pleased to introduce One Sober Life with Jerry Nelson. A former addictions counselor, he’s led the sober life for over 30 years. So he might know a thing or two on the topic. You can learn more about Jerry here.

Please give Jerry a warm Psych Central welcome!


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