Prescription Painkiller Abuse on the Rise
Abusing Prescription Painkillers: A Dangerous Path
Prescription painkillers are drugs that interfere with a person’s nervous system’s transmission of nerve signals perceived as pain. They also produce a euphoric effect—a side-effect of blocking pain. The most powerful painkillers are those that contain opium-like compounds, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, meperidine, and propoxyphene. Long-term use can lead to physical dependence, as the body becomes used to the presence of the substance. Withdrawal effects are often seen once stopped, including restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea, and vomiting.1
Painkillers: They Certainly Can Kill
Three-quarters of the overall pain medicine use is actually misuse, with hydrocodone (Vicodin) being the number one abused prescription painkiller in the United States.1 While many other drugs of abuse have steadily declined over the past few years, prescription painkillers have made an incline instead.1 For teenagers, prescription painkillers are becoming more and more popular, with half of the population using prescription drugs preferring prescription painkillers.1 Wrongly, they believe it is much more safe to abuse prescription painkillers than illegal street drugs.1 In fact, they are often much stronger than street drugs, and can lead to death if too much is taken. For example, in 2007, the painkiller Fentanyl led to the death of over 1,000 people.1 It is between thirty and fifty times more powerful than heroin.1 If not death, long term use turns into addiction, which turns into a life of abuse and dependence.
Further Training to Prescribe Painkillers? Maybe not soon.
According to the New York Times, despite the fact that the United States Food and Drug Administration (F.D.A.) received advice from an expert panel stating that doctors should be trained further before being able to prescribe pain medicines, after years of deliberation the proposal will not be put into place, even though addiction numbers have risen over the past few years. Instead, voluntary programs will be run by the manufacturers of pain medicines, who will underwrite the costs.2 The content, however, will be controlled by the F.D.A. However, F.D.A. Commissioner, Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg, stated that she hopes Congress will instead enact a law stating physician training was mandatory in the near future.2 While the panel of experts were disappointed that training will be voluntary, the American Medical Association believes that costs would become burdensome and the trainings would reduce the number of doctors able to prescribe pain medicines.2 Still, Hamburg hopes that 60 percent of doctors who are able to write prescriptions for pain medicines will take the course within the first three years of its development.2
Dealing with addiction is the focus of the medical community. In order to fight the addiction, professional detoxification must be the first step, followed by intensive psychotherapy that seeks out the reason the patient feels the need to abuse painkillers. Without both steps, relapse rates are high.
Currently, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) is making it a priority to develop medicines that treat pain yet are not addictive. For example, the NIDA is looking into cannabinoid agonists as they block pain and are less addictive, as well as resiniferatoxin (RTX) that has been effective in masking pain in several animal models. Both are still in premature phases.
 “Painkillers and Prescription Drug Abuse.” Drug Free World: Substance & Alcohol Abuse, Education & Prevention. 2012. Accessed 26 December 2012. <http://www.drugfreeworld.org/drugfacts/painkillers.html>.
 Meier, Barry. “F.D.A. Rejects Mandatory Training in Painkillers for Doctors – NYTimes.com.” The New York Times. N.p., 9 July 2012. Web. 26 Dec. 2012. <http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/10/health/fda-rejects-mandatory-training-in-painkillers-for-doctors.html?ref=prescriptiondrugabuse&_r=0>.
 Kaplan, A. (2005, July 1). “NIDA Responds to Escalating Prescription Drug Abuse.” Psychiatric Times. Retrieved from http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/display/article/10168/52586. Painkillers.