Are painkillers a silent killer?

A common household item, capable of easing a migraine, a fever or general soreness. Accessible, affordable and affective. But at what cost? Today we’re going to explore the widely debated usage of opioids, better known as painkillers or analgesics.

This product that needs no introduction has been utilized by human civilizations dating as far back as 3400 BC. The oldest opiate known to date, is Laudanum. Cultivated in 1527, it was introduced by Thomas Sydenham in the 1600s and is still available in pharmacies today. But come early 1900s, war veterans treated with morphine were growing dependant on the drug. Two decades later, a painkiller meant as a substitute to morphine rose to prominence. This drug was marketed as safe and non-addictive. It was illegalized after just 26 years; this morphine surrogate is known as heroin.

Before it was criminalized, free samples were sent out to those fighting their morphine addiction. It was then oxycodone was first synthesized by scientists at the University of Frankfurt, in an attempt to recreate the two opioids with less danger of dependency. Oxycodone went on to be one of the most prevalent abused substances in the United States.

Throughout the years, we might be able to notice a trend of new medication meant to better the lives of people who suffer from chronic pain, become abused and taken off the market, only to have another one take its place.

Due to this phenomenon, prescriptions were born to avoid substance abuse. Doctors were given a guideline when prescribing opioids to their patients and all addictive medication must carry a black box warning, stating the risks of abuse, addiction, overdose and death. However, due to peddlers and the internet, it is rather effortless to purchase drugs without a prescription. You can find painkiller online delivery quite as easily as say, booking an airline ticket, for example at CBD world.

Studies have shown that in “one out of every 550 patients started on opioid therapy died of opioid-related causes a median of 2.6 years after their first opioid prescription”. In recent years, opioid manufacturers have incorporated a few abuse-deterrents. The first and most obvious approach was to implement physical or chemical barriers. This made extracting the opioid difficult and time consuming. Another method was by including an opioid antagonist which minimizes the euphoria associated with taking the pill, suppressing the release of oxytocin – the number one factor in substance abuse. They could also make it into a prodrug, in which it will only be processed in the gut or gastrointestinal tract. Further deterrent properties include incorporating bitterness or unpleasant sensations when the drug is altered or when the patient attempts a higher dosage. Lastly, they introduced a delivery system through which manipulation would be difficult.

Despite all of these efforts, The Guardian reports that overdosing on opioids have doubled in the last decade. While it is unclear whether these are abuse cases or a matter of accidental overdoses, Dr Jane Quinlan, suggests that opioid prescription and how it is readily accessible, has detrimental consequences.

She goes on to say, “I have also seen patients taking more opioids than they should because they were desperate to treat their pain, even though we know they are unlikely to be effective; some who have taken them as a deliberate suicide attempt – sometimes because of the pain – and some who have become acutely hypersensitive to their normal opioid doses as a result of a chest infection or other infection”. Other than that, the negligence of opioid prescription oftentimes result in patients developing an adverse reaction – whether due to an existing condition or is simply due to conflicting medications.

Why then, are analgesics so widely available? If not for the reason that they do serve a higher purpose by improving lives than by allowing patients to be treated humanely when undergoing treatments. According to the FDA, understanding what chemicals you are planning on using is crucial. Familiarize yourself with what each component may cause when abused. Do not make the mistake of thinking if you are taking them for a valid reason, you will not become addicted. Cleaveland Clinic warns that “thinking this way is dangerous” adding that “it has nothing to do with moral character and everything to do with the highly addictive nature of these drugs”.

Painkillers are used to alleviate symptoms while the patient recuperates. It is not a cure and long term use will harm your kidneys, liver or gastrointestinal tracts, leading to more painful conditions. In the last few years, clinics have begun to boycott opioids in an attempt to curb abuse. However, this has led chronic-pain sufferers to react in panic. Without their medication, it seems that they would not be able to function productively and would diminish their quality of life.

Conversely, at the turn of this decade, we might see a significant improvement and a decrease in narcotic abuse as VR therapy becomes available. It has been in the works for more than 10 years, with successes of easing up to 50% off patient’s reported pain. In recent years, they’ve developed interactive worlds for chronic pain sufferers, with positive response. During a trial, only 1 out of 50 people reported no pain reduction, while the rest claimed 60-70% pain reduction. While this may be great for short term usage, as the brain is conditioned to VR, we might have to find a different alternative.

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