Prescription Painkillers

prescription-pill-bottlesMedical professionals feel a strong obligation to adequately treat pain, but the addictive nature of prescription painkillers makes their job challenging. Efforts in the 1990s and beyond to adequately diagnose pain created a painkiller abuse epidemic. Now, six out of 10 deaths from drug overdose involve an opiate-based painkiller.[1]

At every level of society, there is a serious problem with opiate misuse. Since 1999 the number of prescription opiates sold in the United States rose by nearly 4 times, while Americans reported no difference in their pain experiences.1Addiction experts believe three main factors led to the current epidemic: 1) significant increases in the number of painkiller prescriptions written over the past few decades, 2) people feeling more comfortable using prescription drugs in ways other than prescribed and 3) increased and more visible marketing by pharmaceutical companies.[2]
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Reasons Behind Painkiller Addictions

Today, an estimated 3.8 million Americans (age 12 and older) report misusing prescription painkillers and 2 million meet the criteria for an addiction to painkillers.[3] When opiate-based painkillers are taken in a different way than prescribed by a doctor, such as more times in a day or more pills at a time, people experience euphoria in addition to pain relief.

Feelings of euphoria make the pills highly addictive. When a person experiences the intense feelings of pleasure from opiate misuse, his brain learns to crave the large influx of pleasure chemicals. Over time, he loses his ability to feel happiness or pleasure without the drug, because pleasure receptors in the brain now need the higher levels of the chemicals to produce such feelings.

When someone with an addiction or dependence on opiate-based painkillers stops using,he experiences withdrawal symptoms. Professional detoxification at a treatment facility eases these symptoms. It’s especially important to have medical supervision when withdrawing from opiates, because the withdrawal process brings on serious symptoms. Without intervention, a person may choose to keep taking opiates just to avoid the uncomfortable symptoms. Many people experience cramping, muscle aches, sweating and feelings of anxiety during the process along with other symptoms.

There are several FDA-approved medications used during detox. Some therapies target the same receptors used by addictive drugs, while others target the symptoms of discomfort that withdrawal can cause. The process might take days to complete, but when it’s over, people will have the ability to concentrate and work hard in therapy, so they can change their behavior in the future.Medically supervised withdrawal offers patients medications that ease symptoms, including Clonidine, which eases the majority of symptoms. Patients also may be treated with Suboxone (a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone).[4]

Physical Symptoms of Withdrawal

The detoxification process is important because it sets a person up for successful treatment. During detox, drug use stops and the body naturally flushes out the toxins and chemicals built up while using drugs. As part of withdrawal, patients may experience the following symptoms:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Vomiting
  • Cramping
  • Diarrhea
  • Migraines
  • Night sweats

Fear of pain keeps some people away from the help that leads them to sobriety, but detox is necessary to help the body heal.

Some programs promise a quicker detox, providing patients with sedation and a quick injection of drugs to flush opiates from their body. The National Institute on Drug Abuse suggests this form of withdrawal isn’t easier than standard therapies, and the procedure is dangerous, because some sedated people vomit and choke on the fluid. Anesthesia also causes medical complications in some people. Rapid detox is risky and better avoided. The best type of withdrawal treatment incorporates medicinal and supportive care and allows the patient’s body to adjust to not having drugs.[5]

Possible Complications

People going through a standard detox program for painkillers are at low risk for serious complications. Staff closely monitor their progress and intervene if any complications occur. The one complication people commonly experience is relapse. Prescription painkillers are powerful, and strong cravings affect patients long after the detox process is over. If people do relapse after detox, they’re at risk for accidental overdose, which can lead to serious injury or death. Overdose occurs more often after detox because during the process an addict’s body becomes less tolerant of the drug. So, if a person suddenly starts taking opiates again and doesn’t adjust the dose accordingly, the body is overwhelmed.

Professional addiction treatment gives patients the tools to manage cravings and handle stress that leads to relapse. It offers long-term success, because inpatient facilities provide around-the-clock supervision. Patients also receive psychological counseling that addresses why a person takes drugs and offers solutions that manage the need to take them. Going forward, patients need follow-up care that offers support to help them manage the day-to-day challenges of cravings.

Help at The Canyon

At The Canyon, we help you recover from prescription painkiller addiction. We have years of experience in treating a variety of patients, and we offer a wide range of programs. Please call us to find out more.


[1] Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. (2016). Understanding the Epidemic. Injury Prevention & Control: Opioid Overdose. Retrieved Jan. 16, 2017 from https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/epidemic/.

[2] National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). (2014). America’s Addiction to Opioids: Heroin and Prescription Drug Abuse. Retrieved Jan. 16, 2017 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/about-nida/legislative-activities/testimony-to-congress/2018/americas-addiction-to-opioids-heroin-prescription-drug-abuse.

[3] Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (2016). Key substance use and mental health indicators in the United States: Results from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Retrieved Jan. 16, 2017 from https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-FFR1-2015/NSDUH-FFR1-2015/NSDUH-FFR1-2015.pdf.

[4] Heller, Jacob L. (2016). Opiate and opioid withdrawal. Medline Plus. Retrieved Jan. 17, 2017 from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000949.htm.

[5] NIDA. (2006). Three serious adverse events among 35 ultrarapid procedures were all related to unreported preexisting medical conditions. Study Finds Withdrawal No Easier With Ultrarapid Opiate Detox. Retrieved Jan. 16, 2017 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/news-events/nida-notes/2006/10/study-finds-withdrawal-no-easier-ultrarapid-opiate-detox.

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