Prescription Pills: A Possible Fast Track for Addiction
The woman sitting in my office had been referred by her family doctor because she was suffering from unexplained confusion. At 45, Judy was a successful lawyer, mother of two kids, a leader in her synagogue, and active in her tennis club.
The only medication she reported taking were pain pills, prescribed a year earlier by her doctor for migraines. After multiple questions, and perhaps because she was disoriented, Judy told me she was taking 20 of these pain pills a day.
Judy’s fast track to addiction might be said to have begun with her first pain pill, which not only took care of her headache but made her feel less anxious and overwhelmed.
As she increased her dose, she found people liked her better; she was more relaxed at work and less irritable at home.
After three months, Judy leveled off at 20 pills a day, a number that should have left her comatose or dead. Now, although she spent every day running from doctor to doctor for refills, she could not calm her chronic craving or think about anything other than pain pills.
Judy is one of the millions of people suffering from the world’s fastest-growing drug problem—the abuse of prescription medicine.
This number includes more than 25,000 newborns each year whose first experience out of the womb is the pain of narcotic withdrawal. Upwards to 20 million adults, including a growing number of seniors, abused prescription medicines in the last year.
“Many of our residents still drink like they did when they were younger,” reports a chaplain at a retirement community. “But now they weigh less and get intoxicated more easily. When you add abusing prescription drugs to the mix, the results can be fatal.
“Often we don’t know people have a problem until they fall and can’t get up to hide their pills. We’ve had to delay surgery for broken hips and other bones to get people through detox.”
If the rate of prescription pill abuse continues, it is possible opiates will one day rival alcohol as the number-one cause of uncontrollable craving.
Is This Really Me?
“I spend a good part of every day in sketchy neighborhoods, buying pills from people who scare me,” says Marilyn, a teacher and mother. “I’m thinking of switching to heroin, because it’s cheaper and easier to get, but needles scare me. Sometimes I pinch myself and ask, Is this really me?”
Many addicts, like Marilyn, find it difficult to satisfy their craving with prescriptions alone. When they turn to buying pills on the street, they disappear into the spectral existence of a 24/7 search for drugs.
Hardly a day passes without a news story of bizarre, drug-related behavior. Some of these stories are played for entertainment, but behind the headlines is the very real suffering and humiliation of addicted individuals and their families.
In my home state, a criminal court judge became addicted to pain pills and tranquilizers. When he could no longer satisfy his craving by doctor shopping, he bought pills from drug dealers who were defendants in his courtroom.