Painkiller addictions often start as an innocent plea for relief but can turn quickly into so much more. The true risk of painkiller addiction though may still remain largely unknown by patients and physicians alike.
Dr. Wen, head of patient-centered care research at George Washington University’s Department of Emergency Medicine says that narcotics are disproportionately dispersed to the American public for pain. Even though only five percent of the global population resides in the United States, we consume 80 percent of all opioid painkillers. Powerful drugs like Percocet, OxyContin, and Vicodin once reserved for severe chronic pain, are now being doled out like candy.
But just because a drug comes from a doctor doesn’t mean it can’t be deadly. Quite the contrary – according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the death toll from prescription painkillers is six times higher than fatal overdoses caused by the street drug heroin. Research also indicates that prescription drugs are a gateway to addiction, with approximately 33 percent of drug users admitting to getting their start with prescription medications.
Some doctors are only recently learning the dark side of overprescribing such powerful painkillers. Well-meaning physicians feel a duty of care to minimize the suffering of their patients and help with pain relief by whatever means necessary – especially since physician compensation may be directly affected by patient satisfaction scores. But as often is the case with prescription pain pills, the risk may outweigh the rewards.
Dr. Wen says that prescription narcotics shouldn’t necessarily be the go-to form of treatment for all types of pain. She advises that the benefits of other alternatives including natural medicine, over-the-counter options, and physical therapy should also be explored.