How using painkillers can lead to opioid addiction

3:35 PM, Feb 14, 2018

The opioid crisis is nationwide and even though there seems to be significant funding, education, prevention and recovery programs, it doesn’t seem to making a dent in the statistics. According to , within the last 10 years, stimulant prescriptions have increased from 5 million to 45 million while opiates grew from 30 million to 180 million.

More than one-third of Michigan residents who died of an opioid-related overdose had “doctor shopped” in the last year.

Many people who have used opioids are often prescribed them by their physician to manage pain and/or injury that is not responding well to other medications.

Opioid drugs work by binding to opioid receptors in the brain, spinal cord and other areas within the body.

They illicit euphoric effects by binding with the opioid receptors in the brain. “Different opioid drugs have different effects determined by the way they are taken and by the timing and duration of their activity at the opioid receptors,” says

Opioids reduce and eliminate some messages of pain sent to the brain, reducing their sensation felt by the body. Those who are suffering from chronic pain find them to be a welcome relief to a body fraught with continual pain. In many instances, the discontinuation of the drug by the prescribing physician may leave the patient with physical and/or psychological cravings.

This craving may incite the need for continuation to seek the drug; not only for the reduction and blocking of pain signals, but increasingly for the feelings of relaxation and relief. These unfortunately are the first glimpses of substance abuse occurring within the patient.

“Most public health officials and a growing number of policymakers now acknowledge that the country’s rise in prescriptions for opioid-type painkillers such as Vicodin and Percocet play a major role,” HealthLine says.

Sometimes, it’s easier to think of people who are addicted to drugs as being completely different from you, living the type of life you won’t encounter.

However, the connection to painkillers means people you know and love could be addicted, even you could be vulnerable.

“People often assume prescription pain relievers are safer than illicit drugs because they are medically prescribed; however, when these drugs are taken for reasons or in ways or amounts not intended by a doctor … they can result in severe adverse health effects,” the National Institute on Drug Abuse says.

Research shows addiction to painkillers can lead to heroin use partially because it is less expensive and more accessible than prescription opioids, according to the NIDA.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, in 2016, about 948,000 Americans reported using heroin in the past year. Also on the rise is heroin laced with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine. Even more frightening is heroin laced with carfentanil which is 100 times stronger than fentanyl and even just handling even the smallest amounts can be deadly. These two deadly drugs are far more potent that heroin and prescription opioids, are cheaper to produce and almost undetectable when added to cocaine, heroin or pills.

How do you avoid the road to heroin abuse for yourself and your loved ones?

Educating yourself by reading this and other articles helps. Additionally, if you or a loved one has prescription opioids, follow your medical provider’s directions carefully. If you feel the prescription is wrong — either too high or too low — speak with your doctor to get it changed.

When you have leftover painkillers you don’t need, dispose of them properly, so neither you nor anyone else will be tempted to use them. The Detroit Wayne Integrated Health Network (DWIHN) has disposal sites located throughout Wayne County, find a location nearest you at

Beating an addiction to painkillers or heroin may require rehabilitation, therapy and other options. If your loved one is battling a heroin addiction, you can offer your love and support while still setting boundaries that make you comfortable and don’t enable the addict. There is help available, recovery is real.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, call the DWMHA 24 hour crisis helpline at 1-800-241-4949 or visit for more information on prevention, treatment and recovery services.

We are here to talk. We are here to help.

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