The sad news of the death of singer and song writer Prince arrives at a critical time when our nation is struggling to come to grips with opioid addiction. Who knew that someone like Prince, a Jehova’s witness who lived a disciplined life – would be addicted to pain killers? Apparently, he successfully concealed his addictive cycles from his doctors and others. The reaction by the media and law enforcement reaction to suggest prosecution of prescribers who were providing him with the medication is appalling. The appropriate reaction would include:
Education: Addiction or dependence on opioid pain medications is a medical problem we are not going to solve by jailing people. We should work to educate the community in accepting the dependence on pain medications and heroin addiction as a medical illness, requiring persistent and compassionate treatment, and slowly we will limit the terrible loss of life we now mourn.
Percocet, Oxycodone are painkillers are typically prescribed by doctors. These drugs relieve pain by activating the opiate receptors and contribute to relief of pain. But there are two distinct side effects that come with opiate pain killers: “feeling good” and relief in anxiety symptoms. These two side effects increase dependency on the medications, and make it very difficult for patients to stop taking the pain killers. If they suddenly stop taking the opioid medications they experience physical withdrawal symptoms followed by craving.
People on pain killers have incentives to be on it reduced anxiety, pain control and feeling of well being. The disincentive they have a powerful withdrawal symptom. The withdrawal symptoms comprises of nausea, muscle ache, sweating, and an overall awful feeling. These individuals have two powerful psychological phenomenon; a positive re-enforcement and a negative re-enforcement. That makes it so powerful that people don’t know what to do and keep filling their prescription and when the prescription runs out due to tolerance, they rely on street supply and ruin their finances, family relationship and get isolated. That isolation can lead them to use heroin. Since the Afganisthan war, the heroin has become cheaper and readily available.
In summary, we are in this epidemic of opiate addiction. There are medical and psychological treatment available for these patients. There are many forms of treatment and one of the most effective and convenient is Buprenorphine/Naloxone treatment, popularly known as Suboxone. I will discuss them in my upcoming blog posts.