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Secure Health EAP
Drug Free Workplace Newsletter
“Helping individuals to stay drug free”
Commonly Abused Painkillers and the Potential Aftermath
Nearly 14% of U.S. residents--an estimated 35 million people ages 12 and older—reported using prescription pain relievers for non-medical purposes at least once in their lifetime, according to data from the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). Hydrocodone products (such as Vicodin® and Lortab®), codeine or propoxyphene products (such as Darvocet® and Darvon®), and oxycodone products (such as OxyContin®, Percocet®, and Percodan®) were the most commonly reported pain relievers, used by 67%, 60%, and 44%, respectively, of persons who had used a prescription pain reliever nonmedically in their lifetime. Other pain relievers used nonmedically included morphine, Demerol®, tramadol products, methadone, and Dilaudid® (see figure below).
Specific Pain Relievers Used by U.S. Residents Ages 12 and Older
Who Reported Lifetime Nonmedical Use of Pain Relievers, 2009*
(N=an estimated 35,046,000 lifetime nonmedical users of pain relievers
Percent Reporting Lifetime Use
*Percentages do not sum to 100 because respondents could cite more than one type of pain reliever used nonmedically in the past year. 1Includes Vicodin®, Lortab®, Lorcet®, and hydrocodone.
2Includes Darvocet®, Darvon®, Tylenol® with Codeine, codeine, Phenaphen® with Codeine, propoxyphene, and SK-65®.
3Includes Percocet®, Percodan®, Tylox®, and OxyContin®.
Who hasn’t had an ache or a pain at some point or another? For many, the aches and pains are long lasting which presents a variety of challenges including how to manage the pain without abusing the medications. Unfortunately, patients are often not warned of the grave dangers involved with legitimate use of pain medications. The human body is intricate and adaptive, so over time it gets used to a certain amount of a substance and requires more to achieve the same benefit. In addition, we justify the abuse by telling ourselves and others that “it’s legal” or that “it’s prescribed” so it must be okay. The graph on page one highlights a variety of the most common medications that people are willing to admit they took for non-medical purposes. For some, the addiction may end up costing them a relationship, their children, their health, or their life. The roller coaster that occurs when pain and addiction occur simultaneously is staggering as each reinforces the other. Out of desperation, patients turn to pain medications in hopes that it will help. When dependence develops, the cycle of intoxication and withdrawal includes sleep disturbance, depression, anxiety, and stress to name just a few. Kimberly Dennis, M.D. points out that there are ways to distinguish non-medical from medical pain killer use: For example, when a person continues to use the medication despite awareness of physical or psychological harm from doing so, impaired control over using, compulsive use, craving the medication, and being preoccupied with it. In addition, when significant activities are reduced with on-going pain killer use instead of increased this is a key indicator in defining abuse. It is critical that healthcare providers complete a thorough assessment of a patient’s pain and history of substance abuse. The differentiation process to determine “relief seeking” from “drug-seeking” must be done compassionately and honestly. However, the buck doesn’t stop there. Patients must not continue to push off the responsibility of their own physical/mental/emotional health onto others – including doctors. It is in one’s best interest to advocate for self and family members through education, questioning, clarifying, and using great caution. If you have concerns about yourself or someone you know, talk to your doctor and start the communication about possible solutions. You can also contact our EAP to schedule a free, confidential counseling appointment should you or one of your dependents be struggling with the potential abuse of pain medications.
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Sources: CESAR FAX. www.cesar.umd.edu Vol. 19, Issue 45; Dennis M.D., Kimberly. “Painkiller Abuse.” Family Therapy Magazine, November/December 2010
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