Think twice before taking opioid pain scripts


The following editorial appeared in the Pocono Record, Stroudsburg, Pa., on Monday, July 13:

Last week’s dire report on mushrooming heroin abuse should prompt even ordinary folks to wonder: Could I or a loved one be the next victim?

Annually, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention surveys close to 67,000 Americans, and in the most recent survey nearly three in every 1,000 said they had used heroin in the previous year. A decade ago, it was under two per 1,000, showing a 62 percent increase in heroin use. Hundreds of thousands more people are using this dangerous drug.

And they’re not all down-and-outs in back alleys. More and more, heroin users are people who started out on prescription drugs — or pilfered or were given someone else’s scrip — then turned to cheaper, though illegal, heroin. Heroin use more than doubled among whites and doubled among women, while it appeared to level off in other ethnic and racial groups.

Legitimate reasons exist for prescription use of painkillers like Vicodin and Oxycontin, and in recent years doctors have prescribed these drugs more often to their patients. But the National Institute on Drug Abuse (www.drugabuse.gov) calls the increase an epidemic, noting that in 2013 doctors wrote 207 million prescriptions for opioid pain meds. At the same time, more than 2 million Americans suffer from substance use disorders connected to prescription opioid pain relievers, and overdose deaths have more than quadrupled over the past 15 years. “The causes are complex,” NIDA notes, “but they include overprescription of pain medication.”

Prescription drugs like Vicodin and Oxycontin contain the same opioid elements as heroin. Most patients can take it responsibly, and potential addiction isn’t really an issue for terminal patients in pain.

But for others, the lure of the altered state is too strong to resist, and from prescriptions they turn to heroin.

Heroin is plentiful and cheap. It’s also potentially deadly. Anyone seeking a prescription for pain might want to think long and hard about whether they can tough it out instead.

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(c)2015 the Pocono Record, Stroudsburg, Pa.

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