Although it is a common misconception that an addiction to powerful painkillers can only manifest after long periods of abuse, a new study has found that it is actually possible for people to become dependant on these types of medications within a matter of days.
Researchers at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, which published their findings in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, say around six percent of the people prescribed even a single day’s worth of prescription painkillers will still be using the drug within a year.
The severity of the situation increases for those prescribed a five-day supply of these medications, with the threat of long term opioid use growing exponentially for people on opioids eight days or longer, the report shows.
“The chances of long-term opioid use, use that lasts one year or more, start increasing with each additional day supplied, starting after the third day, and increase substantially after someone is prescribed five or more days, and especially after someone is prescribed one month of opioid therapy,” said lead researcher Martin Bradley.
At the core of this problem is a mostly unsung drug called Tramadol, which is often touted by medical professionals as a safer alternative to narcotic pain medications. However, the report finds that people who use Tramadol, a non-narcotic that is gaining popularity because it is relatively easier to get than other pain medications, are more likely to pick up a habit than those on OxyContin or Vicodin.
Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new federal guidelines for these addictive drugs in an effort to get doctors to stop overprescribing opioids.
The new guidelines suggest that prescription painkillers should not be the first treatment option when looking to ease common ailments, such as back pain and arthritis. Instead, the CDC recommends doctors lean more on physical therapy and over-the-counter medications before giving patients a taste of narcotics.
The hope is that the updated guidelines might put some kind of a leash on the opioid epidemic currently swallowing the nation. Health officials say the problem is largely attributed to the fact that American doctors were permitted to write hundreds of millions of prescriptions for opioid medications over the past few years, contributing, in part, to hundreds of thousands of overdose deaths over the past decade.
“In 2012, health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for opioid pain medication, enough for every adult in the United States to have a bottle of pills,” reports the CDC.
Contrary to what some lawmakers believe, the only solution to curbing the opioid epidemic in the United States is to control the production and distribution of these medications—not rehabilitation.
Some of the latest research shows throwing addicts into treatment programs and expecting them to emerge totally on the mend is pipe dream, at best.
Earlier this month, a study from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that 67 percent of those treated for opioid addiction were destined to return to the drug within a year. These people will never live a normal life, said lead researcher Dr. G. Caleb Alexander, and will most likely be forced to get seek ongoing treatment in order to maintain their sobriety.
“Policymakers may believe that people treated for opioid addiction are cured, but people with substance use disorders have a lifelong vulnerability,” Alexander said.
Meanwhile, marijuana advocates want the population to know that not only is pot not addictive (at least no more than caffeine), research shows the herb is an effective alternative to pain medications.
A recent report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine shows that while we have a lot to learn about the medicinal benefits of the cannabis plant, one thing is for sure—it has the power to alleviate pain.