A Nation in Pain, Express Scripts’ comprehensive report on pain medication usage in the U.S., shows that while the number of Americans using prescription opioids – such as codeine, hydrocodone or OxyContin® – for pain relief has declined over the past five years, the amount of prescription opioid medications, use of potentially dangerous high doses and medication combinations, and other risky usage patterns are on the rise.
Prescription opioids can provide patients with clinically safe and very effective pain management. However, their potential for addiction requires vigilance by patients and all other parties in a patient’s care, including doctors, nurses, caregivers, pharmacists and benefit providers.
Addiction to prescription opioids can be fatal. In fact, death from prescription drug overdoses is greater than cocaine and heroin combined.
If you or a loved one uses prescription pain medications, be aware of these signs that could indicate dependence on or addiction to the pain medication:
- Seeking or obtaining prescriptions from multiple prescribers and filling at multiple pharmacies, especially ones that are not in close physical proximity
- Using pain medications to “feel good” rather than to treat discomfort
- Frequent claims that the pharmacy didn’t provide enough medication or medications have been lost
- Avoiding doctor appointments because the office counts pills or performs urine drug screens
- Bouts of anger or depression
- Feelings of anxiety
- Displays of aggressive behavior toward the doctor, pharmacy or caregivers related to opioid medications
- Increased alcohol use or abuse
Increased Medication Use
- Taking more pills or taking medication more frequently than prescribed
- Seeking early refills of opioid medication
- Using opioids with other high-risk medications, like muscle relaxants and anti-anxiety medications, that increase euphoria
- Use of additional medication to treat severe side effects (such as stimulants to combat drowsiness, sedatives to regulate sleep patterns)
Experiencing withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, diarrhea, muscle pain, sweating and agitation also are signs of a body’s dependence on prescription opioids.
If you identify with any of the signs or symptoms above, or recognize them in a loved one, it is important to notify the prescribing physician immediately. The doctor can alter the pain therapy to one with fewer addictive properties or begin to safely withdraw the patient from the medication. It is not safe for a patient to abruptly discontinue medication without physician supervision.
There are many resources for patients and caregivers concerned with opiate dependence or addiction. The patient’s physician can refer counseling services and addiction treatment as needed. Support groups, such as Narcotics Anonymous, offer counseling and other services for patients dealing with addiction to prescription pain medications. Also, many employers offer free, confidential assistance programs to help employees or their dependents who are trying to overcome an addiction or other personal concerns.
Remember, addiction to pain medication is an illness, not a crime. Intervention can save a life.
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