In most cases it begins innocently enough: A person is injured and has a lot of pain. He or she goes to the emergency room or to a doctor and gets a legal prescription for a pain reliever.
The prescribed medication may be an opiod, a class of medications that includes such familiar drugs as Percodan, Percocet, Darvon, Vicodan, Codeine and Oxycontin. Opiods have provided relief to people for many years - but they carry the great risk of drug dependence if overused.
A person taking a prescribed opiod usually finds that the medication is very effective at first. If use continues, however, the prescribed amount may no longer work, but taking just one more pill seems to help. Before long, more and more medication is required to relieve the pain.
If this pattern continues, eventually no amount will make the person feel better. Instead, he or she may feel lousy all the time. Although the pain from the original injury is probably gone, now aches and pains arise all over the body.
People in this situation sometimes turn to illegal drugs to ease their many pains. While the drugs may bring relief, they can also bring a life of torment. Sadly, m any people who find themselves dependent and in need of relief may also seek out heroin, an illegal version of these drugs.
Both the effectiveness and the dangers of opiods are related to how they work in the body: They block pain receptors in the brain. This is useful for reducing discomfort, but ongoing use of these drugs results in two phenomena. The first is tolerance, which occurs when more of the drug is needed to achieve pain relief. The second, withdrawal, happens when the drug is no longer being used.
Symptoms of withdrawal are similar to those of the flu but have been described as being 10 times more intense. A desire to avoid withdrawal and a need to satisfy an ever-increasing habit leads many people to steal or obtain the drug by any means possible.
The power and lure of opiods are currently prominent through recent news stories about pharmacy employees stealing these drugs at work. The drugs are favorite targets of such employees and other thieves seeking either to make money from victims of the above scenario or to perpetuate their own habits.
If you need to take these drugs, do so with great care and only under the supervision of your doctor. Be sure to take the medication only as prescribed, only when absolutely necessary and only as long as absolutely needed for pain relief.
If you experience symptoms of tolerance - meaning the prescribed dose no longer provides pain relief - or withdrawal, seek medical attention immediately. Your doctor can arrange to taper you off the medication safely and painlessly.
Remember that opiods offer effective relief of pain but unsafe use can lead to a kind of discomfort that no medication can ever alleviate.