Prescription painkiller abuse approaches “plague” proportions

Recent stories have continued to highlight the ongoing problem with heroin and prescription opiate abuse in our communities. These instances, along with many others in the past several years, are increasingly occurring in suburban areas.

Dr. Lance Longo, Medical Director of Aurora Psychiatric Hospital

According to Lance Longo, MD, Medical Director of Addictions at Aurora Psychiatric Hospital, the path to becoming a heroin user typically starts with abuse of recreational drugs such as marijuana or alcohol. Some young people begin to experiment with prescription opiates, gaining access from the family medicine cabinet or by getting them from friends or associates off the street.

Other people begin exposure while being treated for a problem with pain. Percocet and Oxycodone are two of the more commonly abused pain medications. And the abuse of prescription pain medications is more common among young people than many realize. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA,) over 11% of young adults ages 18-25 used a pain medication for non-medical purposes in 2010.

For some people, it does not take long to become physically dependent on opiates. People initially begin to abuse the medication for the high they experience, but soon they may need it just to feel normal. Dr. Longo indicates that some people experience withdrawal symptoms after only a week of daily use. For an individual who has become dependent on the medication, it becomes increasingly expensive and difficult to acquire the medication they need to avoid withdrawal.

At this point, they may turn to heroin as a less expensive and more accessible way to acquire the drug. Heroin can be snorted or taken intravenously which produces an immediate effect for the user. This accelerates the downward spiral of addiction.

Treatment alternatives are available for opiate dependence. The Opiate Recovery Program at Aurora Psychiatric Hospital, for example uses medication (Buprenorphine) along with an intensive therapy program to assist with recovery. Programs like this can be help in developing the coping skills and support system needed to maintain sobriety.

For more information on opiate abuse and treatment, visit the SAMHSA website.

Aurora Behavioral Health Services offers complete mental health treatment options in a caring, confidential environment.  If you find you may be struggling with stress that is causing significant physical or emotional impairment in your lifecontact us — online or by phone at 1-877-666-7223 — as soon as possible.

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