Addiction to prescription painkillers is America's latest drug crisis. On August 10, President Trump declared opioid addiction to be a "national emergency" and promised he would increase the government's efforts to fight the epidemic.
According to a statement released by his office, President Trump "has instructed his Administration to use all appropriate emergency and other authorities to respond to the crisis caused by the opioid epidemic."
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 90 Americans die every day after overdosing on opioids, which include prescription painkillers along with heroin and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl.
Have you been prescribed opioids for chronic pain, such as a backache? Are you at risk of becoming dependent? You may be in more danger than you realize.
Prescription painkillers, also known as opioids, include oxycodone, hydrocodone, and hydromorphone. They were widely prescribed for chronic pain after pharmaceutical companies assured healthcare providers back in the 1990s that the drugs were not addictive.
But over the intervening years, opioid overdoses began to rise. Studies have shown that up to 29 percent of patients prescribed the drugs misuse them. And about 80 percent of people who use heroin started out abusing prescription opioids.
The epidemic extends into middle America, affecting both suburban and rural America, and blurring the line between addiction to prescribed drugs and addiction to heroin and other illegal drugs.
The Institute of Medicine estimates that more than 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain, which is more than the number of heart attack, cancer, and diabetes victims combined. Long-term use of opioid drugs can change the brain's chemistry, and can cause both physical and psychological dependence.
Most experts believe anyone can become addicted, and a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that opiate dependency can begin within just a few days of starting use.
The CDC found that using pills for a single day carried a 6 percent risk of using the pills one year later. Those who were given a 30-day prescription had a 30 percent risk of still using them a year later.
After taking an opioid, pain is relieved, and many people discover the drug gives an increased feeling of well-being, and continue to take the drug even after the pain is gone.
If you take opioids more often than prescribed and can't seem to control their use, you're probably addicted. And if a loved one uses opioids and you notice they have slurred speech, shallow breathing, contracted pupils, and they complain of nausea and chronic constipation, you're justified to worry if they're addicted.
Although anyone can become addicted to a drug, some factors increase the risk:
• Family history of addiction. Your genes affect your risk, so if you have a blood relative who has had a problem with drugs or alcohol, your risk is greater.
• Gender. Men are more likely to become addicted to drugs than women.
• Anxiety or depression. Some people find that drugs, including painkillers, help them cope with psychological problems.
• Environment. Difficult family situations increase vulnerability as does peer pressure in young people.
• Additional mental health disorders. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) increases the risk of addiction as does attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
A study published in the journal Addiction found that four factors significantly increase the risk of becoming addicted to opioids: age (younger than 65), depression, taking psychotropic drugs (including Xanax, Zoloft, and Prozac), and pain impairment. The four factors combined raise the risk of addiction eightfold.
If you or a loved one take opioids and want to quit, you should know that although withdrawal isn't usually life-threatening, it is difficult, and it is accompanied by uncomfortable symptoms that can begin within hours, according to American Addiction Centers.
Early withdrawal symptoms from short-acting opiates begin within 6 to 12 hours and include muscle aches, runny nose, racing heart, sweating, tearing up, and fever. Later withdrawal symptoms from long-acting opiates include nausea, muscle cramping, opiate cravings, anxiety, agitation, and depression. While they generally peak within 72 hours, they usually last for a week or more.
Expert medical help is essential. Experts believe the most effective treatment for addiction includes a combination of medications and therapies. Some medicines reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms, including methadone and buprenorphine. Cognitive behavioral therapy as well as couples and family therapy are also often a part of treatment.
Natural therapies can also help. Eat a diet high in nutrients, including magnesium, calcium, and potassium, and keep hydrated. Anti-inflammatory supplements such as fish oil and turmeric can help suppress the inflammation that accompanies withdrawal. A double-blind clinical trial involving opiate addicts found that passionflower helped manage the symptoms of opiate withdrawal.
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