By Cheryl Steinberg
The thing about drug addiction is that it affects all people, across gender, socio-economic, age, and ethnic lines. And that’s becoming more and more apparent as a heroin scourge spreads the nation. First, we wrote about how heroin has become the drug of choice among white, middle-class, suburbia.
But, you might be shocked to find out that the next population being most affected by the heroin epidemic is the Baby Boomers generation, who are now around 45 – 64 years of age.
After all, these are our parents and grandparents. It’s kind of hard to picture ol’ grandma shooting up in the bathroom, don’t you agree?
U.S. Heroin Epidemic Now Rampant Among Baby Boomers
However, this is the reality. In fact, the cases of heroin-related deaths among Baby Boomers have nearly quintupled from 516 in 2000 to 2,459 in 2013, the Times Union reports.
Bottom line: Older Americans are a growing sector in the heroin-addicted population in the U.S.
There are a few theories behind the “emerging epidemic,” or the trend among Baby Boomers who have turned to heroin.
First off, it’s important to know that seniors are prescribed more drugs than any other segment of the total population, and of these prescribed drugs, we’re not just talking heart and cholesterol pills. Of these prescription drugs, the majority are opioid pain relievers and anti-anxiety drugs – mostly benzos, like Xanax and Valium.
And, in this pill-popping society where everyone’s just looking for that magic bullet to solve their problems, the medical community reflects this in their overall mentality of ‘medicate-first,’ which only serves to make matters worse.
“What initially becomes a way of managing that pain can, over time, lead them to needing more of the painkiller,” Nicole MacFarland, executive director of Senior Hope, a nonprofit outpatient clinic in Albany for people 50 years and older, told the Times Union. “Their body develops a tolerance and, lo and behold, they wind up becoming very addicted.”
The rise in heroin use can also be attributed to the pill mill crackdowns and other strategies governments have been enacting in order to address the painkiller abuse sweeping the land. In an unfortunate twist (although foreseeable in this writer’s eyes), the tighter regulation on narcotic painkillers led to a revival of heroin use. We’ve seen it among the affluent, suburbia, and now the elderly.
The problem is that there was this nationwide crackdown on painkillers yet there was no plan in place as to how to deal with all the people who had become dependent on and even addicted to painkillers.
And just as we have seen with other “surprising populations” that have turned to heroin, older adults are also turning to heroin when the painkillers they are getting just aren’t enough to treat their pain. For example, the number of patients at Senior Hope whose main addiction was heroin increased from six patients in 2012 to 17 in 2014, out of 155 patients.
An issue specific to the Baby Boomer population when it comes to drug abuse is that weaning older adults from an opiate addiction can be complicated, since they need often need pain medication for other ailments such as chronic pain.
Again, substance abuse, misuse, and addiction are non-discriminating medical situations, meaning that anyone can be affected at any time. So, although it might be hard to picture certain people using heroin or other drugs, it’s just as likely as for anybody else to be using. Please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135.
Author: Justin Mckibben
It can be said that the major public health campaign to curb opiate use and abuse has had some success in reducing the number of people who take potentially addictive narcotic painkillers. So the efforts and accomplishments of those trying to raise awareness of the opiate epidemic have not gone unnoticed.
That being said, the opiate epidemic is still a thing. The reality is opiate use is still a big deal because even though less patients are prescribed, those who are prescribed the drugs are getting prescribed more of these medications, and are being given them for a longer period of time. This combined with the role opiates play in accidental deaths in America makes for a very real issue.
In a recent study nearly half the people who took painkillers for over 30 days in the first year of the survey were still using them 3 years later, which researches say is a sign of potential abuse.
The pharmacy claims of 6.8 million Americans who filled at least one prescription for an opiate medication between 2009 and 2013 were examined for the data collected in this study. Opioids are some of the most commonly used drugs including:
The report that was released this past Tuesday by the pharmacy benefits manager Express Scripts, found that:
- Nearly 60% of patients taking the painkillers to treat long-term conditions were also being prescribed muscle relaxants or anti-anxiety drugs that could cause dangerous reactions.
The senior vice president at Express Scripts Dr. Glen Stettin stated,
“Not only are more people using these medications chronically, they are using them at higher doses than we would necessarily expect. And they are using them in combinations for which there isn’t a lot of clinical justification.”
Dangers of Opiate Abuse and Overdose
In case you did not know, I reported in a recent article that overdoses involving prescription drugs are actually the leading cause of accidental death in the United States of America! According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
- Opiate painkillers play a role in about 70% of accidental deaths attributed to overdoses involving prescription drugs
- Opiate overdoses led to 16,000 deaths in 2012
So one major concern with the growing statistic of longer term use and over-prescribed amounts of these medications is the greatly increased risk of overdose, and the statistics already show that accidental death in many ways is not uncommonly linked to opiate abuse or addiction.
Dangers of Mixing Medications
With few exceptions, patients who are taking an opioid painkiller should not be prescribed other drugs with a sedative effect because of a risk that the combined drugs could slow down the respiratory system. The recent study found:
- Nearly 1/3 of patients were prescribed an opioid and a benzodiazepine in the same month
- Around the same percentage were prescribed a muscle relaxant and an opioid at the same time
- 27% were taking more than one opioid at a time, another hazardous combination
Given the information by the patients saying many of them were prescribed by different doctors, and filled prescriptions at different pharmacies, the data suggests a fair amount of doctor shopping and a need for stricter regulations on medication.
Long Term Problems
The drop in prescriptions of opiate medications is a great sign of change. However it is disturbing that doctors are continuing to give opioids to many patients for long time frames of treatment. Most experts now believe that while helpful in treating pain from injuries and surgery, opioids should be discontinued as quickly as possible.
The Express Scripts study found that a large percentage of patients who took an opiate medication for 30 days or more continued to use the drug long term. While some doctors insist medications should be provided that work around the clock, the data determined that about half of those patients were taking short-acting opioids.
While many experts say it is a relief to know that less people are actually being handed out prescriptions for these kinds of medications, it is still fearful to know that many people who are prescribed them are still being given larger quantities for longer extensions of time. Several doctors insist that opiates should not be considered a long-term solution for those in pain, and that there is still plenty to be done to raise awareness about the dangers of prolonged opiate dependence.
Opiate addiction, be it prescription medication or illicit narcotics such as heroin, is one disease that has had a pretty intense impact on the world. The past few years have been especially eye-opening for many as to the realities of this addiction. Hopefully as regulations change and studies continue to monitor the changes in the circumstances, we will find few people suffering and dying from this terrible illness. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135.
Were you prescribed pain meds after surgery or a serious illness? Are you now trying to stop taking the meds, only to find that you begin to feel sick, depressed, and anxious? This is a sign of drug dependence and it is very common, especially with powerful narcotic painkillers that doctors prescribe post-surgery or for certain illnesses and pain conditions. Because of this there are programs for medical detox for pain meds after surgery or illness, or for a chronic pain disorder.
Physical Dependence vs. Addiction
Being physically dependent on a medication does not necessarily mean that you are an addict. You may be physically addicted but, there is a difference when it comes to that and someone who has the disease of addiction.
Prescription painkillers are opioids, meaning a man-made version of an opiate – such as heroin, which comes from a plant. The way opioids work is this: once taken, your brain recognizes them as chemicals and they attach to tiny parts on nerve cells called opioid receptors. After using opioid pain meds long-term, these drugs actually cause changes in the way brain nerve cells work. This happens to everyone, even people who were prescribed pain meds for a legitimate medical reason. The nerve cells become used to having opioids around, so that when they are taken away suddenly, you experience a lot of uncomfortable and even painful reactions. These are known as withdrawal symptoms. A detox for pain meds after surgery or illness can treat your withdrawal symptoms and keep you comfortable through the process.
Someone with the disease of addiction is also physically dependent on a drug, or drugs, such as pain meds. When someone has a drug addiction, it means that they continue to take the meds until they build a tolerance and then seek more, even if it means getting drugs through illegal means, although this is not always the case. People with addiction will also continue to use drugs despite the negative impact it’s having on their lives, such as loss of job, relationships, and financial and legal troubles. For these folks, a detox from pain meds after surgery or illness is also beneficial, although they will need to continue their rehabilitation through other programs, such as inpatient and intensive outpatient.
Detox for Pain Meds After Surgery or Illness: What to Expect
A detox program that treats the withdrawal symptoms that result from coming off of narcotic pain meds has two phases.
Detox for Pain Meds After Surgery or Illness: Evaluation
The first step in the detox process takes place when you first arrive. You will meet with an Intake Specialist who will ask you questions about your situation: what drug or drugs you are taking, how much, and how you take them (whether you swallow them as pills, crush and snort them, or inject them). All of this information is kept confidential and is protected by HIPAA laws that are a part of federal legislation that protects an individual’s medical information.
Detox for Pain Meds After Surgery or Illness: Stabilization
This process takes anywhere from 4 to ten days, sometimes a little longer, and consists of you being tapered off of the pain meds, usually with the help of other prescribed medications. You will be monitored by a full professional medical staff for the rest of your stay. Your vitals will be taken twice daily and your meals will be provided for you.
By the end of your detox from pain meds after surgery or illness, you will be feeling much, much better. If you have a chronic pain condition that will continue some kind of management, including medication, the medical doctor at the detox will work with you to prescribe a non-narcotic alternative as well as make suggestions as to other therapies that can alleviate your pain, such as physical therapy, acupuncture, and chiropractic care.
If you have become dependent or addicted to prescription pain meds and are looking for help to get off of them, an opiate detox such as a detox for pain meds after surgery or illness can offer you this help. Call an Addiction Specialist at toll-free 1-800-951-6135 today, we are available around the clock.
By Cheryl Steinberg
The American Academy of Neurology (AAN) has recently issued a warning about taking powerful painkillers to treat pain conditions not associated with cancer conditions.
According to the AAN, which issued their new position statement in the September issue of the academy’s medical journal, Neurology, the risks of taking prescription painkillers far outweigh any potential benefits.
The AAN cited risks associated with the taking of powerful narcotic painkillers, which include overdose, death, and a high potential for abuse, dependence and addiction, outweigh the benefits of treating pain such as that from headaches, fibromyalgia, and chronic low back pain – essentially non-cancer conditions.
Painkillers and Non-Cancer Pain Treatment
Initially, narcotic painkillers such as oxycodone, Oxycontin, and hydrocodone were developed for the purpose of pain management in cancer patients. Due to more lax prescribing regulations for long-term use, painkillers have become more and more the go-to for treating pain that pales in comparison to that associated with cancer.
Gary Franklin, a research professor in the Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences in the University Of Washington School Of Public Health in Seattle and a fellow with the AAN said, “More than 100,000 people have died from prescription opioid use since policies changed in the late 1990s to allow much more liberal long-term use.”
Painkillers, the U.S., and Overdose Rates
Every year, U.S. doctors prescribe more than 259 million prescriptions for painkillers. As a result, Americans consume 80% of the world’s painkillers. Doctors, institutions, states, and patients need to work together to stop this “epidemic,” Franklin said.
Rates of drug overdose deaths in the United States have tripled in the past 20 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “There have been more deaths from prescription opioids in the most vulnerable young to middle-aged groups than from firearms and car accidents,” added Franklin.
Studies cited by the AAN have shown that half of patients who were taking opioid painkillers for at least three months are still taking the drugs five years later. After reviewing the available research, it’s evident that, while these medications can provide significant pain relief in the short-term, there is no considerable evidence “for maintaining this effect or improving function over long periods without serious risk of overdose, dependence, or addiction.”
The AAN suggests that doctors can prescribe opioids more safely and effectively by screening their patients for current or past drug use, depression, as well as assessing their pain and function by measuring for tolerance and effectiveness. “More research and information regarding opioid effectiveness and management is needed along with changes in state and federal laws and policy to ensure patients are safer when prescribed these drugs,” Franklin said.
In addition, the AAN recommends that doctors consult a pain management specialist if their patient’s painkiller dosage exceeds 80 to 120 milligrams per day and especially if their pain and function have not improved substantially.
Are you taking prescription painkillers for a chronic pain condition? Have you been on the medication for way too long and want to get off of it but can’t? A lot of people who become addicted to narcotics were initially prescribed them by their doctors for legitimate reasons. These drugs are so powerful, though, that they tend to do more harm than good in the long run. If you want to find out other options for treating your pain, call toll-free 1-800-951-6135 to speak with an Addiction Specialist. We have helped many other people in your position to stop taking painkillers in a safe and comfortable way.
By Cheryl Steinberg
I just celebrated two years of sobriety, being clean and sober from all mood and mind-altering substances, save for caffeine and nicotine (nicotine-free now for 6 months). In my addiction, I used and abused anything I could get my hands on: from alcohol to painkillers to benzos to even sleeping pills. I would say that my true DOC was opiates, painkillers and later, heroin.
My love affair began with a drug called Tramadol, also known as Ultram and Ultracet. It had been prescribed to me for a legitimate pain condition and, at the time, I was told it was a ‘safe’ drug, meaning that it had a low rate of physical dependence amongst those to whom it’s prescribed. I was told it was a “non-narcotic opioid,” not really knowing what that meant. I thought it sounded good, though and trusted my physician whole-heartedly.
What I found, however, from taking Tramadol, was that it made me feel good. You know, that certain euphoric high that illicit drugs and narcotic painkillers give you. I also noticed that, if I took more than was prescribed, I felt even better; higher.
Around this time, I had graduated from an institute of higher learning and was living in the college town. This wasn’t a very big town nor was there much to do, except hit the bars and pubs along Main Street. I honestly wasn’t that big of a boozer anymore; alcohol had stopped ‘working’ for me a while back, while I was still in college. It just didn’t sit well with me physically and I couldn’t drink enough to get drunk (why else do people drink, amirite?).
Then one evening, when I had plans to meet friends at a local pub, I took my Tramadol beforehand. I ordered a beer with the rest of them, not expecting to be able to finish it. This time was different, though. I could drink, and drink some more. The alcohol didn’t upset my stomach! And, as an added bonus, I was pleasantly high and drunk, due to the synergistic effect of the Tramadol and alcohol together. This was to be my new jam for a while.
But ‘a while’ soon passed and the drug combination stopped working. Even with the tramadol, I wasn’t able to drink alcohol anymore. But, you know what? I didn’t even matter. I had my new love: painkillers. And, in love I was!
The rest of my story doesn’t really matter for the purpose of this article. I just wanted to illustrate how my addiction to narcotic painkillers and heroin began. It’s been my experience that there are several other people like me out there, who thought they were being prescribed a relatively safe drug with no potential for addiction only later to find themselves hooked.
Others in recovery don’t seem to know what Tramadol is and that is worrisome to me. I want to get the word out that Tramadol is not something to be taken lightly – both literally and figuratively.
Always always always be a self-advocate when it comes to your health and when dealing with your healthcare providers. Let them know you are concerned about taking certain drugs, such as narcotic painkillers and benzos, if they want to prescribe a drug of these classes to you. There are alternatives to narcotic medications. In the case that your condition requires something more potent, say, you’ve undergone surgery, then don’t be a martyr. There are safe ways to take these drugs. Always follow the prescription instructions. Talk to your sober supports and sponsor. Have someone trustworthy hold your prescription for you. Whatever it takes.
So, is tramadol safe for people in recovery? It’s not necessarily a black-and-white issue with a clear-cut answer. Tramadol is an opioid – which just means that it is a man-made opiate (heroin). If you are struggling with prescription painkillers or any other substance, help is available. Call toll-free 1-800-951-6135 to speak with an Addiction Specialist. You are not alone.