Painkiller addiction is a terrible disease that can tear apart a person's life—personal and professional.
It has been called 'the respectable addiction' and 'the silent addiction' because so often, seemingly normal people who manage to function in society and who effectively hide the problem are in fact addicted to painkillers. Too often, they were prescribed a bottle of Vicodin for some minor issue and a year later, find themselves entirely dependent on the pills simply to get through their day. They begin taking more and more and build a tolerance, and the more they take the more they need.
The term 'painkiller' is used to denote a number of opiate-based prescription medications and includes but is not limited to:
- Codeine (i.e. Tylenol #3)
- Hydrocodone (i.e. Vicodin, Lortab)
- Oxycodone (i.e. Percocet, Percodan)
Aside from the inherent danger of becoming a painkiller addict, abusing painkillers presents some extra dangers to the addict.
Many short-acting painkillers are tied to an over-the-counter pain medication like acetaminophen or aspirin. Vicodin contains between 500 mg and 750 mg of acetaminophen per pill, while Percocets contain slightly less. When people abuse these short-acting medications, they often times do not realize how much acetaminophen they are ingesting, and the harm they might be doing to their liver.
The liver is responsible for breaking down medications so that they can go out the body through the urine. One of the by-products it creates is harmful to the liver cells if it stays in the liver too long, which can happen if there is too much acetaminophen for it to process. Long-term damage of the liver can lead to liver disease, which often ends in a slow and painful death.
We don't associate painkiller addicts with strung out drug addicts who are trying to score drugs on street corners, but this is hardly uncommon. A painkiller addict can only count on being able to juggle so many doctors to write so many prescriptions before they run out of pills. Fearful of going into withdrawal, they may resort to finding pills in places they would not otherwise go, such as dangerous parts of a city or town, or into questionable apartments or homes.
Death is definitely a danger when it comes to painkiller addiction. One of the effects of opioids is to depress the respiratory system—slow it down, so that the person is taking shallow breaths. If a person overdoses on opioids, they can effectively shut down the person's respiratory system and result in death.
It is also possible that a person can overdose on painkillers accidentally and die due to suffocation by choking on their own vomit.
This is really just an introduction to the dangers of painkiller addiction. The narcosis induced by painkillers will make some people unfit to drive, yet they will anyway, and in doing so could cause a car accident that results in injury or death. It is also not uncommon for people to combine painkillers with other drugs, such as alcohol or benzodiazepines, further raising their risk of injury or death.