Prescription Opioids (Painkillers) - Alcohol Drug Addiction Treatment Centers

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Prescription Opioids (Painkillers)

Prescription Opioids (Painkillers)

Prescription painkillers are powerful drugs that interfere with the nervous system’s transmission of the nerve signals we perceive as pain. Most painkillers also stimulate the portions of the brain associated with pleasure. Thus, in addition to blocking pain, they produce a “high.”

Prescription medications are second only to marijuana use as the nation’s most commonly used illicit drug. Pain reliever misuse is a public health concern, with approximately 24 million persons initiating nonmedical use of prescription pain relievers since 2002. According to the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 4.2 percent of Americans aged 12 or older engaged in nonmedical use of prescription pain relievers in the past year.

The classes of prescription drugs most commonly abused are opioid pain relievers, such as Vicodin or Oxycontin; stimulants for treating Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), such as Adderall, Concerta or Ritalin; and central nervous system depressants for relieving anxiety, such as Valium or Xanax. The most commonly abused over-the-counter (OTC) drugs are cough and cold remedies containing dextromethorphan.

People often think that prescription and OTC drugs are safer than illicit drugs, but that’s only true when they are taken exactly as prescribed and for the purpose intended. When abused, prescription and OTC drugs can be addictive and put abusers at risk for other adverse health effects, including overdose, especially when taken along with other drugs or alcohol.

The addiction specialists at understand how the use of prescription drugs can transform into drug abuse and then addiction. Call 1 (877) 968-6283 to learn how you can end your dependence.

What are opioids?

The most powerful prescription painkillers are called opioids, which are opium-like compounds. They are manufactured to react on the nervous system in the same way as drugs derived from the opium poppy, such as heroin. The most commonly abused opioid painkillers include oxycodone, hydrocodone, meperidine, hydromorphone and propoxyphene.


Oxycodone has the greatest potential for abuse and the greatest dangers. It is as powerful as heroin and affects the nervous system the same way. Oxycodone is sold under many trade names, such as Percodan, Endodan, Roxiprin, Percocet, Endocet, Roxicet and OxyContin. It comes in tablet form.

Hydrocodone is used in combination with other chemicals and is available in prescription pain medications as tablets, capsules and syrups. Trade names include Anexsia, Dicodid, Hycodan, Hycomine,
Lorcet, Lortab, Norco, Tussionex and Vicodin. Sales and production of this drug have increased significantly in recent years, as has its illicit use.

Meperidine (brand name Demerol) and hydromorphone (Dilaudid) come in tablets and propoxyphene (Darvon) in capsules, but all three have been known to be crushed and injected, snorted or smoked. Darvon, banned in the UK since 2005, is among the top ten drugs reported in drug abuse deaths in the US. Dilaudid, considered eight times more potent than morphine, is often called “drug store heroin” onthe streets.

How are prescription drugs abused?

Prescription and OTC drugs may be abused in one or more of the following ways:

Taking a medication that has been prescribed for somebody else. Unaware of the dangers of sharing medications, people often unknowingly contribute to this form of abuse by sharing their unused pain relievers with their family members.

Taking a drug in a higher quantity or in another manner than prescribed. Most prescription drugs are dispensed orally in tablets, but abusers sometimes crush the tablets and snort or inject the powder. This hastens the entry of the drug into the bloodstream and the brain and amplifies its effects.

Taking a drug for another purpose than prescribed. All of the drug types mentioned can produce pleasurable effects at sufficient quantities, so taking them for the purpose of getting high is one of the main reasons people abuse them.


Substance abuse is defined as continued use of illicit or prescription drugs despite problems from drug use with relationships, work, school, health or safety. People who abuse substances often experience loss of control and take drugs in larger amounts or for longer than they intended.

Because commonly abused prescription drugs activatethe brain’s reward center, it’s possible to become addicted to them. People who are addicted continue to use a drug even when that drug makes their lives worse, just like people addicted to nicotine continue smoking cigarettes even when it harms their health and they want to quit.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “The initial decision to take drugs is mostly voluntary. However, when drug abuse takes over, a person’s ability to exert self-control can become seriously impaired. Brain imaging studies from drug-addicted individuals show physical changes in areas of the brain that are critical to judgment, decision making, learning and memory and behavior control. Scientists believe that these changes alter the way the brain works, and may help explain the compulsive and destructive behaviors of addiction.”

From addiction to overdose

An overdose occurs when a drug is swallowed, inhaled, injected or absorbed through the skin in excessive amounts and injures the body. Overdoses are either intentional or unintentional. If the person taking or giving a substance did not mean to hurt themselves or others, then it is unintentional.

Rates of fatal overdoses caused by analgesic opioids (i.e. opiate-based painkillers) have increased dramatically in the United States over the past five years. The prevalence of nonmedical analgesic drug abuse (i.e. use for recreational or self-treatment purposes without a prescription or using more medication than prescribed by a physician) is second only to that of marijuana abuse, and currently the number of fatal analgesic overdoses is greater than the number of heroin and cocaine overdoses combined.

For example, more than 1,000 people in Massachusetts died of opioid-related overdoses in 2014. That’s a 33 percent jump over 2012 figures.

The most common drugs involved in prescription overdose deaths include:

  • Hydrocodone (e.g., Vicodin)
  • Oxycodone (e.g., OxyContin)
  • Oxymorphone (e.g., Opana)
  • Methadone (especially when prescribed for pain)

Prescription painkiller overdose deaths also often involve benzodiazepines. People who take prescription painkillers can become addicted with just one prescription. Once addicted, it can be hard to stop. In 2013, nearly two million Americans abused prescription painkillers. Each day, almost 7,000 people are treated in emergency departments for using these drugs in a manner other than as directed.

Taking too many prescription painkillers can stop a person’s breathing—leading to death. Development of any symptoms after drug overdose requires immediate and accurate information about the specific name of the drug, the amount of the drug ingested and the time when the drug was taken. Often, the bottle the drug came in will have the information needed. Treatment will be dictated by the specific drug taken in the overdose.

Are you or a loved one abusing prescription medications? Please call today at 1 (877) 968-6283 to free yourself from their control over your life. One of our compassionate addiction specialists will match you with the drug addiction treatment center that will help you regain that control in order to live a clean and sober life.

The call is toll free and you will never be charged for our services.

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