By Aakash Jain ’14
According to recent research, the number of deaths caused by painkillers has risen steeply in the last few years.
In fact, one report claims that the number of overdoses due to prescription drugs surpasses those caused by heroin and cocaine combined.
Furthermore, more and more high school students are also abusing powerful painkillers.
This abuse has been identified as the “fastest growing drug problem facing the U.S.” by The New York Times.
Painkillers are readily available and getting more and more popular, which has caused an abuse crisis in our country.
For example, OxyContin, a commonly abused drug, is Purdue Pharma’s brand for time-release oral oxycodone.
Opioid painkillers like OxyContin mimic the action of natural endorphins by binding with the opioid receptors in the brain and spinal cord.
This blocks the transmission of pain signals sent by the nerves to the brain.
Therefore, even though the cause of the pain may remain, less pain is actually felt. This function in itself is actually quite beneficial to the medical field because less pain promotes recovery and potentially gives relief to patients.
However, abusers often circumvent OxyContin’s time-release mechanism by crushing pills and then snorting or injecting them. This is the point at which these drugs become seriously dangerous.
Abusers’ bodies are flooded almost instantaneously with oxycodone, resulting in a high probability of a fatal overdose.
Furthermore, the likelihood of the development of a chemical dependency to OxyContin greatly increases when the pills are deliberately taken in this manner.
A recent study in Boston found that OxyContin is a gateway drug for heroin, which addicts may start using as a cheaper alternative.
It seems obvious that anyone equipped with this simple knowledge would refrain from abusing OxyContin, and other similar painkillers, at all costs, yet abuse remains a huge issue.
According to the 2010 Monitoring the Future survey, prescription and over-the-counter drugs are among the most commonly abused by 12th graders after alcohol, marijuana and tobacco.
Fortunately, drug manufacturers have kept their eyes open to the problem and have recently taken several steps to prevent prescription abuse.
For example, beginning in 2010, OxyContin was reformulated by adding binders to prevent the grinding of tablets for insufflation or injection, and to maintain its extended release characteristics.
There is hope that these changes will be able to diminish the severe problem of painkiller abuse that plagues our society.
However, this initiative fails to address abusers who are already addicted to OxyContin.
Education and rehabilitation programs present the greatest likelihood for success in this matter.