The country is in the midst of a serious decade-long opioid crisis. While significant gains at curbing this problem were made in the past few years, the pandemic created a major disruption in healthcare that made it difficult for many people recovering from opioids to get the help they needed.
The best way to avoid needing rehab for opioid painkillers is to not get hooked in the first place. This is a particularly serious challenge as millions of Americans with chronic pain need opioid painkillers to be able to enjoy a decent quality of life. While most never develop an opioid use disorder, the sheer number of prescriptions being given out guarantees that some will.
What’s more, with more prescriptions comes more opportunities for unauthorized people to get access to these controlled opioids. This, in turn, fuels a deadly demand for illicit drugs as these people get hooked after misusing prescription painkillers.
Are painkillers that big of a problem?
Absolutely. After alcohol, opioids are the most called-in problem at Dallas Drug Treatment Centers, mostly mirroring a nationwide pattern. A striking proportion of the people seeking treatment for opioid use disorders started because of legitimate painkiller prescriptions, while many others got hooked after taking black market painkillers recreationally.
How did prescription painkillers contribute to the opioid crisis?
Opioid-based painkillers are an incredibly useful class of medications. Modern medicine as we know it would be close to impossible without the use of these drugs. The addictive nature of opioids has long been recognized, so pharmaceutical companies have long taken steps to make these substances less addictive.
However, it’s very difficult to create opioid painkillers that do not have any potential for addiction. For this reason, doctors need to be very careful when handing out prescriptions for opioid drugs.
While these precautions are mostly effective, it’s impossible to guarantee that patients — many of whom are in serious pain — will use these potentially addictive painkillers as directed. There is also the constant danger of unauthorized access to these drugs by people close to the patient or others with indirect access. Additionally, some addiction risks remain, even if the painkillers are used as directed.
Unfortunately, once you get hooked on opioid painkillers, it becomes extremely difficult to stop. Withdrawals can bring extreme pain and discomfort that may even drive individuals to suicide. The withdrawal pains may cause the individual to “shop around” for doctors willing to prescribe more opioids or even cause them to seek out these drugs on the black market.
Because black market opioids can be cheaper and more powerful than legitimate prescription painkillers, some people may even come to prefer them. This opens them up to more health risks, as these illicit drugs are completely unregulated and are often cut with toxic chemicals.
Which painkillers have the highest addictive potential?
Virtually all opioid painkillers have some addictive potential. Below are just some of the prescription painkillers you should be wary about using. Be sure to discuss all your prescriptions at length with your doctor and to closely follow the directed usage of any opioid medications.
- Fentanyl – In pure form, this synthetic opioid painkiller is 80 times more potent than heroin and can be 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine. Actiq®, Duragesic®, and Sublimaze® are just some of the brand names for this drug. In legitimate use cases, it’s often available as a skin patch, an intravenous injection, or as lozenges. Today, illicit injectable fentanyl is considered to be the single biggest opioid threat, outstripping black tar heroin as a drug of abuse.
- Vicodin – this popular drug is a blend of acetaminophen and hydrocodone. It is available in pill form and is often prescribed for moderate pain. Illicit Vicodin is also one of the most common recreational “gateway opioids”. Because it could be ingested, it does not have as much of a turn-off for new opioid users as injected or snorted drugs. Unfortunately, many people who use Vicodin recreationally move onto to harder drugs and more dangerous use methods.
- Demerol – This drug is widely used in medical contexts as a substitute for more addictive morphine. Demerol comes in dozens of different brand names in syrup, tablet, and injectable forms. While not as addictive as morphine, it still has the potential to be habit-forming.
- Morphine – This painkiller is an essential painkilling drug used in surgical theaters all over the world. It was even more widely used in the past but has since been reserved for only very specific use cases because of its highly addictive potential. Morphine is also sometimes used to control withdrawals from more addictive opioids like heroin and fentanyl, though methadone is now more widely used for this purpose.
- Methadone – This is a preferred drug for opioid replacement therapy due to its long-lasting effect and relatively low potential for harm and addiction compared to other opioids. However, because it is still an opioid, it can still be habit-forming, especially when not used as directed.
- Oxycodone- Once widely prescribed under the trade name OxyContin®, this drug is now more likely to be substituted with relatively milder blended opioid painkillers like Percocet. The widespread prescription of this drug is partly blamed for worsening the opioid epidemic.
- Percocet – This prescription drug is a blend of oxycodone and acetaminophen, similar to Vicodin except for the specific opioid used. The drug is intended for short-term pain relief and is widely prescribed throughout the United States. Unfortunately, it is also widely misused as a recreational drug, often leading to an opioid use disorder.
- Tramadol – This opioid is relatively old, having been introduced in the 1960s. It’s considered to be a weaker opioid, about six times less potent than oxycodone. Nonetheless, there is an addiction risk when not used as directed.
Find help for painkillers today
If you think that you or someone you love has a problem with painkiller use, our team at Dallas Drug Treatment Centers is ready to help. We can offer you easy access to dozens of opioid treatment programs in North Texas and beyond. Get in touch to find out which residential and outpatient rehab programs work best for you.