Tracking addiction to prescription drugs can be difficult since data is often limited to confirmed overdoses. However, some estimates suggest that prescription drug dependency could affect as many as 9 million Americans. The mild-altering properties associated with opioids, anti-anxiety medications and stimulants make these particular prescription medications more addictive than others, although addictions can also result from mental illness, irrational fears or a history of past problems with drugs and alcohol.
Self-identifying Prescription Addictions
It’s not that easy to identify patients likely to become addicted to prescription pain killers and pills since short-time misuse – whether intentional or not – doesn’t always translate to a long-term problem. However, there are steps patients can take to identify, react to and overcome issues with prescription painkillers. Patients can also self-identify addictions to pain killers by keeping track of dosages and avoiding mistakes like doubling pill intake if a dosage is missed. The key to effective self-identification of a problem with prescription medications is being able to recognize signs of dependency that may include:
- Taking extra dosages beyond what’s instructed
- Noticeable changes in sleep and eating habits
- Making excuses to get refills sooner (i.e., claiming the medication was dropped or somehow lost)
Monitoring Patient Prescription Use
Forty-seven states currently provide medical professionals with access to Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs. Such programs include the use of a database doctors and pharmacists can access to monitor patient access to prescription pain killers and related pills. The goal of establishing a database is to make it easier for medical professionals to determine if patients are attempting to fill the same prescription at other pharmacies, including locations in neighboring states. Efforts are underway to increase the rate at which existing databases are updated, with the goal of allowing doctors to perform a check while patients are still in the office so the issue can be addressed sooner rather than later.
Balancing Treatment and Risk
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that addictions to opioids cause approximately 40 deaths per day. At the same time, medications like Vicodin, OxyContin and Percocet provide much-need relief for patients recovering from dental surgery and post-op discomfort. Consequently, it’s necessary to find a balance between treatment and risk. A solution that appears to be gaining traction is a move towards less-addictive alternatives still offering meaningful relief while minimizing the risk of dependency, including:
- Over-the-counter pain-relievers that provide similar benefits (like ibuprofen)
- Physical therapy (hot-cold therapy, strengthening exercises, massage therapy)
- OTC versions of prescription medications (in lower dosages)
- Topical medications and injections (when pain is relegated to one or two locations)
While there are no prescription pills that are completely addiction-free, Connecticut-based Cara Therapeutics is among drug companies working on pain medications that may achieve that goal for opioid drugs by targeting different nerve receptors, allowing patients to experience pain relief without risking addiction. Until such medications become a widespread reality, however, patients are encouraged to self-monitor and seek treatment when it becomes obvious that a problem has developed.