ADDICTION TO PAINKILLERS By Justin Wax Ann was a normal American woman simply abiding by traffic laws when her world suddenly turned upside down. One moment she was waiting at a traffic light - the next a driver speeding at 55 mile per hour slammed into her vehicle. Ann, whose letter and account of her accident was published on www.opiates.com, vividly remembers the aftermath. "Two surgeries later and three years of taking opiates to kill the chronic pain, I realized that taking 10 to 15 tables of 80 mg. OxyContin daily or popping 40 plus Norco tablets daily was consuming my life, more so than the pain," she writes. "I was desperate to quit. Five days of cold turkey ended in failure." Painkiller addiction is a menace to many Americans. Addiction to painkillers usually begins when patients do not follow the directions, John Winborn, MTSU Heath associate professor and expert on prescription drugs says. "You know someone has a problem when after the prescription runs out, they seek to get [an additional] prescription," he adds. "Some drugs, available by prescription, can be purchased on the street." Determining the number of Americans struggling with painkiller addiction is difficult. Many Americans do not report their addiction, so there is really no responsible way to ascertain the figures. "There's this notion that [since it is a prescription] the drug is clean or pure, and so they fall into this addiction," Winborn says. Addiction depends on a wide variety of factors including genetic makeup, emotional issues and individual circumstances. Individual difference nullifies the notion that one prescription drug is easier than another to become addicted to, Winborn says. Those addicted to painkillers do not face jail time, unless they distribute the drugs themselves. "In some instances there is a simple possession [charge]," Winborn warns, [but the] "illegality is in the sales and distribution." When a person reaches a point where he or she decides to fight an addiction, Winborn says the person has "bottomed out." "Some people 'bottom out' when they wake up in a jail cell," Winborn says. "For others, it takes losing a family. And sadly, for some, the addiction does not end until death." Ways to avoid becoming addicted to painkillers include completely following the directions and maintaining a good, honest relationship with a physician. For those addicted to painkillers, there is help. Ann struggled with OxyContin and Norco tablets - but she found help at the Waisman Institute treatment center. "I am still tired, not sleeping very well and my stamina is reduced but improving daily," Ann writes in the letter to the center. "Pain? Still have a lot - the accident left permanent damage. "I am working on new ways to deal with it and am confident I will find a solution, and not one that relies on narcotics," she writes. For more information contact the MTSU Counseling Center at 898-2870.