There are widespread false beliefs about prescription opioid painkillers that contribute to the epidemic of opioid addiction in the United States today. People misuse their medications in unsafe ways, or continue to use them for a longer span of time than is advisable, because of these false beliefs. The growing epidemic of dependency and addiction has driven up the rates of accidental opioid overdose fatalities in recent years, and in 2015, more than 15,000 Americans died from overdosing on prescription painkillers.
Here are a few of the most common false beliefs about prescription opioids:
Misconception #1: Prescription medications are safe because they are prescribed by a doctor.
Many people assume that any medication prescribed by a medical professional must be safe, but the truth is, any medication can be dangerous if misused, and prescription painkillers are particularly dangerous.
Misconception #2: Prescription painkillers “fix” pain.
People with health problems that cause pain will often believe the solution is to take prescription opioids for the long term, and unfortunately there are doctors who will prescribe opiates in this way, despite copious evidence of the dangers of long term opioid use. This is not an effective way to manage pain. Painkillers do not “fix” pain, they merely mask the problem by blocking pain signals. The root problem remains. Even worse, over time, prescription painkillers can make you more sensitive to pain, exacerbating the problem.
Misconception #3: Higher doses of prescription opiates will work better.
When you’re in pain, you just want it to stop, and many people in pain will take larger doses of prescription painkillers, or take their dose more frequently than directed, because they think this will be more effective. Unfortunately, larger doses will only increase the psychoactive effects of the drug (the euphoric high), as well as your odds of developing tolerance, dependence, and addiction. Any effectiveness that the drug did have for you will pass as your body becomes accustomed to large amounts of opioids in your system.
Misconception #4: Painkillers aren’t addictive if you’re really in pain.
Just because you have a legitimate medical condition that is causing you pain, doesn’t mean that you can’t become addicted to your prescription painkiller. It is true that addiction is less likely if you have a real reason to take the medication, and if you follow prescribing instructions, but anyone could be potentially vulnerable to dependency while taking prescription opioids.
This doesn’t mean that people should not take these medications, and in fact, untreated pain can cause a host of stress-related health problems. Rather, when you do take prescription opioids, be very careful. Pay attention to how you feel, check in with your doctor, follow instructions closely, and look into alternative pain management techniques to help minimize your use of opiates. Mindfulness training, acupressure and acupuncture, and physical exercise are all drug-free ways to reduce your experience of pain.
If you do become addicted, seek out a resource like Addictions.com to provide you with the help you need to heal.