As a doctor I pay special attention to news that relates to health and health care. I have been noticing a lot of stories lately concerning a subject that is very important to me as a health care provider that specializes in helping people deal with pain, the growing problem of prescription pain medication abuse. This morning there was a story about recent drug raids in Florida, not of crack houses or dealers on the corner, but "dealers working out of strip malls". Al Lamberti of the Broward County Sheriffs Department stated "We have more pain clinics than [we have] McDonald's [restaurants], they're taking their toll." It is far to easy for people to walk into a clinic, say they have pain, and receive a prescription for very powerful, highly addictive, dangerous drugs. According to the CDC, from 1999--2006 the number of poisoning deaths in the United States nearly doubled, from approximately 20,000 to 37,000, largely because of overdose deaths involving prescription opioid painkillers. This increase coincided with a nearly fourfold increase in the use of prescription opioids nationally (1). A Science News article from the same year stated that prescription pain killers are involved in more drug overdose deaths than either cocaine or heroin in the U.S. (2). A recent study by the center for disease control published by The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology found babies born to women who take opioid pain killers such as codeine, oxycodone or hydrocodone just before or in early pregnancy are at increased but modest risk of birth defects(3). Even when they were taken BEFORE pregnancy!
This quote is from Medline, the website of the National Institute of Health "About 9% of the population is believed to misuse opiates over the course of their lifetime, including prescribed pain medications such as Oxycontin. These drugs can cause physical dependence." They go on to state "Opiate withdrawal refers to the wide range of symptoms that occur after stopping or dramatically reducing opiate drugs after heavy and prolonged use (several weeks or more)."(4). Several weeks is considered prolonged use!
Pain is often your bodies way of telling you to to change something in your life. As a chiropractor I believe it is better to find out what is wrong with your body and fix it, or find out what you are doing wrong and change it, than to "shoot the messenger". Taking a powerful pain medication is not changing or fixing anything, it is only silencing our bodies natural warning system. Kind of like putting a piece of tape over the "check engine light" and hoping the problem goes away. I believe there is a time and a place for these drugs, such as people with severe chronic pain due to certain cancers. Unfortunately I often see patients that were prescribed these drugs for low back and neck pain, many for several weeks or more. Heroin would also take away your back pain, but I hope you're smart enough to know that would be a really bad idea. Think about that if you are offered the legal version.
Yours in Health,
Dr. Tate Huffman
Websites for references.