Are you addicted to painkillers without knowing it?

Most people are aware of the well-known illegal addicitive drugs such as cocaine or heroin, but prescription drugs can fly under the radar in terms of their potential for abuse. Painkillers and other drugs that doctors prescribe for a variety of ailments can also carry a risk of addiction.

The word addiction brings negative, stereotypical images to the minds of those who have little knowledge of the subject. It’s interesting to note that, in an article published by the British Medical Journal, prescription painkillers look to be one of the biggest threats to us all where addiction is concerned both in the UK and U.S.

Doctors are handing out Opiate based painkillers at a higher rate than ever before thus increasing not only the threat of addiction, but of risk of deaths associated with opiates. Some of the Opiate prescription drugs you may have heard of include Morphine, Codeine, Oxycotin and Methadone. An Opiate works by binding to Opiate receptors in the same way as illegal drugs like heroin. This is because they contain some of the same chemical compounds. The dried latex which is taken from the opium poppy plant contains both Morphine and Codeine which create the analgesic properties in all of these drugs.

Other non narcotic drugs which are classified as Synthetic Opiates aim to work in the much the same way, by binding to opiate receptors but without the associated addictive qualities. This isn’t always the case however, as seen by the increasingly popular drug, Tramadol (Ultram in the U.S). Tramadol is currently marketed as a non addictive Opiate substitute. Frequent or regular use of Tramadol however has proven in some people to be equally as addictive if not more so than its Opiate counterparts. Tramadol also contains a second ingredient, a selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor, (in other words an antidepressant) which may go some way to explaining why users describe coming off of this drug harder than quitting heroin.

Codeine can be bought without a prescription here in the UK in small amounts from any pharmacist combined with other drugs. It cannot be bought as a standalone drug in order to prevent misuse. It is thought that people will avoid using it for recreational purposes because the filler drugs when taken in quantities large enough for it to produce any kind of euphoric effect could prove fatal.  Of course this doesn’t prevent people who are determined from doing so trying, either by ignoring the dangers involved or by creating ways to remove the 'filler'.

The rise in prescription Opiates has opened up the flood gates for a new kind of addict. The middle aged mum next door is equally as likely to have a problem with addiction as the stereotypical drop out that the media portray. Whilst there is no doubt that Opiate pain killers have their place, certainly in the treatment of terminal diseases such as cancer, we have to wonder if this trend continues how long it will be before we have a real epidemic on our hands.

Whilst the government has promised to look into the issue it could be some time before changes, if any, are made. In the meantime it’s advisable for all of us to research what we are taking. We grew up believing we could trust our Doctors and blindly took whatever they prescribed believing they had our best interests at heart. I’m quite sure the same remains true today but there is no harm with taking a bit more responsibility for ourselves and studying the consequences of the drugs we ingest.

As a last note, parents who have been prescribed Opiate painkillers are advised to keep their medications locked away as some of these drugs, most notably Tramadol, are quickly becoming firm favourites amongst our youth.

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