Prescription Painkillers

Prescription painkillers are opiates and are prescribed as analgesics, to treat moderate or severe pain. Often, patients continue taking their medication as prescribed and become physically dependent upon the drug. Physical dependency means that even if they want to stop taking the medication, it becomes extremely uncomfortable due to symptoms of withdrawal. This happens because of the following physical process:
  • The brain has responded to the presence of the pain medicine by increasing the number of receptors for the drug, and the nerve cells in the brain cease to function normally.
  • The body stops producing endorphins (the body's natural painkillers) because it is receiving opiates instead.
  • The degeneration of the nerve cells in the brain causes a physical dependency on an external supply of opiates, and reducing or stopping intake of the drug causes a painful series of physical changes called the withdrawal syndrome (Clifford A. Bernstein, MD.,
Painkillers are often are abused because they cause euphoria or feelings of well-being by affecting the brain regions that mediate pleasure (
61, the average number of pharmaceutical drug deaths per day in the United States. - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Commonly Prescribed Narcotics include:
  • Oxycodone (OxyContin®, Percocet®, Tylox®, Roxicodone®, Roxicet®)
  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin®, Hocodan®, Lorcet®, Lortab®, Vicoprofen®, Tussionex®, Norco®)
  • Morphine (Roxanol®, Duramorph®)
  • Hydromorphone (Dilaudid®)
  • Oxymorphone (Opana®)
  • Methadone
  • Fentanyl (Actiq®, Fentora®, Duragesic®, Sublimaze®)
  • Codeine (Tylenol with codeine®, No.1, No.2, and No.3, and many cough syrups)
Older adults and prescription drug abuse
Prescription drug abuse in older adults is a growing problem. Having multiple health problems and taking multiple drugs can put seniors at risk of misusing drugs or becoming addicted, especially when they combine drugs with alcohol (
Symptoms of Prescription Painkiller Abuse (
  • Depression
  • Dilated or constricted pupils
  • Decreased breathing rate
  • Confusion
  • Sweating
  • Poor coordination
  • Slurred speech
  • Taking higher doses than prescribed
  • Excessive mood swings and hostility
  • Increase or decrease in sleep
  • Poor decision making
  • Appearing to be high, unusually energetic or revved up, or sedated
  • Always "losing" prescriptions so more must be written
  • Seeking prescriptions from more than one doctor
If you suspect that you or a loved one may be dependent or addicted to prescription painkillers, seek professional advice immediately.
Withdrawal Symptoms
Withdrawal from prescription painkillers arises when a person stops taking them, but the body is physically dependent on them. Sudden discontinuation of opiates, "going cold turkey", is associated with intense withdrawal symptoms, which although rarely life threatening, can be severe and prolonged, lasting up to two to three weeks.
  • Fever
  • Sweating
  • Chills
  • Cold flashes
  • Aches, pain in muscles and bones
  • Shaking
  • Legs moving involuntarily
  • Restlessness
  • Insomnia
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
Signs of Overdose
  • Shallow or irregular breathing
  • Sweating
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Pin-point pupils
  • Unconsciousness
  • Convulsions

If you suspect an overdose, call 911 immediately!

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