Attorney General Greg Zoeler has declared itâ€™s time for states to step up and do something about the prescription drug epidemic gripping our nation. On Monday, Mental Health experts presented their evidence to a legislative study committee outlining how prescription drug abuse is the silent epidemic bringing down not only addicts, but also those who become addicted to pain medicine prescribed legitimately by their physicians for chronic pain. Well-intentioned as these doctors may be, the current standard for pain treatment is to prescribe opiates such as Vicoden and OxyContin, sometimes in extended release forms.
Becoming addicted to prescription pills is very easy
Unfortunately, those who take these medications for any length of time develop tolerance (needing more and more of the drug for it to work) and become addicted, compounding the original problem. Worse, the backlash of opiate addiction is the fact that once one is addicted, the original pain actually becomes worse than it was to begin with – until the drug is ingested. Thus, the withdrawal, treatment and recovery cycle for Gram and Gramps is the same as it is for the street addicts.
And for addicts?
Party time comes too easy! Itâ€™s common practice to get a hold of these medications in pill form, crush them and snort them for a more intense high. Young people find access to them in medicine cabinets, from peers or even through faked emergency room visits. Sometimes they move on to heroin as they develop tolerance and need to find a steady supply of their drug to feed their growing addiction.
Making steps toward change
To address both these issues, The Food and Drug Administration announced that they will instruct makers of certain opioids to change the labels on extended release versions of their products like oxycodone and hydrocodone – suggesting that these drugs should only be prescribed after alternative treatments have been tried first, according to an article in Bloomburg.com.
â€œThese labeling changes describe more clearly the risks and safety concerns associated with ER/LA (extended release/long acting) opioids and will encourage better, more appropriate, prescribing, monitoring and patient counseling practices,â€ said Douglas Throckmorton, deputy director for regulatory programs in the FDAâ€™s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, in the article.
Bad news for drug companies like Zogenix Inc., whose proposal to release an extended-release, acetaminophen-free opioid ( Zohydro ER) was voted down by a panel of experts, citing concerns of itâ€™s addictive potential. Too much acetaminophen can be toxic to the liver, so there may be need for this drug, but it will only be approved by FDA officials if more safety restrictions are imposed.
Also in the works are boxed warnings for painkillers citing the elevated risk of neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome that can occur within the motherâ€™s womb.
Hydrocodone combination drugs are currently the most widely prescribed pain medications in the U.S. These pills were responsible for more than 115,739 overdose-related emergency room visits in 2010 – more that double of what it was in 2004, according to Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
It was last year that that the FDA began looking into strategies for dealing with long-acting and extended-release opioids. Education and labeling will help, but more must be done to combat this silent epidemic.
If opioid dependence is affecting your life, find out how to address the problem and get to the solution. Seek professional help before it’s too late.