Addiction to Painkillers Is Common: What You Need to Know

More and more patients are being prescribed long-term prescriptions for powerful painkillers called opioids, such as oxycodone, codeine and morphine, for chronic and severe pain. From 1999 to 2014, the number of opioid prescriptions has quadrupled. This increase has led to a serious problem of addiction across the United States and poses a dangerous threat to healthcare workers, who often perform physical tasks and sometimes have to move patients or do heavy lifting, making them more likely to experience chronic pain.

Opioid addiction can damage personal relationships, hurt finances and cause other serious health issues. Even more sobering is that more than 300,000 people have died from opioid overdoses since 2000, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That is why it’s so important to be careful if your doctor has prescribed opioids for you. With long-term use, their pain-relieving effects lessen and you need to take more of them to relieve the pain. Your body can easily become dependent on the drugs, causing withdrawal symptoms—which makes it difficult to stop taking them.

Opioid painkillers should only be prescribed for palliative care for the terminally ill or on a short-term basis for pain relief after major surgery. It’s too easy to become dependent on opioids, and long-term use is dangerous to your health. For some patients, opioid dependence can begin to develop within a week of taking the drugs, even when taken as prescribed.

Of course, the longer you take opioids, the greater your risk of developing an addiction. You may feel a compulsive need to use them for longer than prescribed or take more than the prescribed dose. Or when you try to stop taking them, you may experience withdrawal symptoms that can be mistaken for symptoms of a flu or other virus, like upset stomach, nausea, or body aches and pains. You may also lack your usual energy, have intense mood swings, and withdraw socially from family and friends.

Some other signs of opioid addiction include:

  • Increased sensitivity to pain
  • Increased anxiety
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Constipation and bowel dysfunction
  • Hot and cold sweats or goose bumps
  • Breathing problems
  • Irregular heart rhythms
  • Inability to fall asleep or stay asleep

If you are suffering from chronic pain, ask your doctor what alternative treatments you could try. In
addition to other over-the-counter and prescription pain relievers, there are alternative treatment options to discuss with your doctor, in combination with medications, such as physical and occupational therapy; stress management; relaxation techniques; massage; acupuncture; and chiropractic care.

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Exercise Can Help Fight Depression

One more reason to get moving: Doing just one hour a week of exercise may lower your long-term risk for depression, according to a study in the American Journal of Psychiatry. Researchers found that those who did one hour of exercise a week, regardless of intensity level, were 44 percent less likely to develop depression over the course of a decade than those who never worked out. So find an exercise routine you enjoy—and be sure to stick with it!

If you or someone in your family is struggling with opioid dependence, you don’t need to go it alone. You can get help. As with any illness, you should first speak with your healthcare provider. You can also talk to someone in your Benefit Fund’s Wellness Member Assistance Program, at (646) 473-6900, who can provide support and guidance, including finding referrals to inpatient and outpatient programs. All conversations are strictly confidential.

Sources: National Institutes of Health; U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Mayo Clinic; Office of National Drug Control Policy; U.S. Food and Drug Administration; National Safety Council

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