Are you addicted to prescription drugs?

The number of narcotic pain medication prescriptions written in the U.S. has skyrocketed over the last two decades. In an effort to treat pain more effectively and with the advent of many newer forms of opiod (narcotic) pain relievers - Oxycontin, Lortab, Methadone, Percodan, Percocet, Tramadol, Fentanyl - millions of American now take these medications on a regular basis for a wide range of diagnoses. While generally meant for short-term use, opiate pain medications have slowly been used for longer periods times and for many ailments previously untreated with narcotics. While some benefit has been noted an unfortunate, tragic consequence ensued.According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) narcotic prescription use rose 1,000% in the US between 1990 and 2009. As well, nationally we experienced a 500% increase in the number of prescription narcotic related deaths. We find ourselves in the midst of what the US government and many state health agencies have called an accelerating "epidemic of prescription drug misuse, addiction and overdose." As of 2010, 15 states report the number of deaths from prescription opiate overdose now exceeds the number of people killed in car accidents. The total number of Emergency Room visits caused by prescription narcotic misuse stand at 1,000,000 and rising at nearly 30 % per year. The two US states with the highest per capita misuse of prescription narcotics are Utah and West Virginia, the lowest, California and New York. And this new narcotic epidemic seems to be almost the exclusively province of middle age and older people. The number of narcotic overdose cases peaks in the 34-54 age group, while the total number of people who overdose in their sixties, seventies and eighties has doubed in the past five years. This phenomenon has captured the attention of many federal, state and local regulatory and law enforcement officials. Obviously, it also captures the attention of family members and friends - in the worst way imaginable - when they lose someone to a narcotic overdose. Before you or some one you love becomes a statistic, be aware of the seven sure signs of narcotic addiction and impending problems. 1.) Has a trusted loved one or family member expressed concern about your prescription opiate use? 2.) Do you have more than one doctor who prescribes the same medication? Or multiple prescriptions from multiple providers? 3.) Do you have medications secretly hidden in more than one location around your home? 4.) Have you taken these medications on a regular basis for more than two weeks? Or a month? If so you are probably physically addicted. 5.) Do these medications help you to function? Have you returned to work? If not why? What tasks do the medications help you to perform? If you cannot answer these questions and you continue taking opiates, this is a very dangerous sign. 6.) Take a step back and look at your life since you began taking opiate medications. Are things getting better or worse? Have bad things begun to happen? Lose your job? Wreck your car? Divorce? Arrest? 7.) Last, and most importantly, have you ever been admitted to a hospital, for any reason, due to prescription drug use? Solutions to the national prescription opiate problem are elusive and multi-factorial. But two issues standout. Doctors give these medications too liberally, for longer periods than are warranted and for pain issues that might better be treated by other modalities. But patients ask for these medications specifically and often insist upon them. More education on both parts seems to be in order. If these medications are part of your life or the life of someone about whom you care, take a look at the issue of opiate use. Be honest. Talk with your family. Talk with your doctor. Ask if there aren't other less dangerous medications that might also be effective. Ask if there are other treatment options - physical therapy, acupuncture, support groups - which might allow you to talk a lower dose of narcotic medications or perhaps wean off them entirely. And, equally importantly, discuss whether a formal drug detox and rehabilitation program might be needed. Read up. Speak up. Don't add your name or the name of someone you love to the growing lists of prescription narcotic statistics. Stephen B. Seager, MD is a practicing psychiatrist. He is author of "The God Gene: The Promise of Prometheus." He can be reached at

********** Published: January 27, 2011 - Volume 9 - Issue 41