From Chronic to Deadly: Prescription Pain Meds

A couple of weeks ago I watched a documentary produced by the FBI about the heroin epidemic in this country, in our city, entitled “Chasing the Dragon.”   It is an epidemic, and it is heightened by the ongoing use of prescription opiates. Many of the prescriptions were prescribed by doctors for pain management following an accident or surgery or diagnosis of chronic pain.

According to AARP, some seventeen percent of adults age 60 and older struggle with alcohol or drug addiction. In reports following the death of music icon Prince, prescription opiates were identified as the alleged cause. My sister, who is in her early 50’s, was prescribed Vicodin and Oxycodone for what was described as chronic pain. She now cannot live without these drugs. Until I watched the above documentary I was not educated about the growing problem.  I wonder what situations other individuals may be experiencing, for example, surgeries and old sports injuries, and what has been prescribed by their doctors.  What should we be looking for in their behaviors?

If you suspect someone you love is overusing medications, you will want to take some action. First and foremost, be on the alert. What health conditions are they being treated for? Are they still taking heavy meds months after a surgery? Look at the labels on the prescription bottles. Who is prescribing them? What is the dosage, refill amount, etc?

Behavior. Is your loved one’s behavior erratic? Are they more depressed, anxious, angry, secretive or just want to be left alone? Do they fall asleep during a visit or conversation? Do they take more than the prescribed amount? Watch them and write down any odd or out of sync moments.

For older adults, especially if they live alone, it is important to monitor intake of prescription meds. When my mother went from one prescription to seven following her heart attack, we purchased a seven-day pillbox and broke out the distribution per day to help her keep track of what meds she was taking and what day. We made sure we were comfortable with her taking the meds, and also accompanied her to several doctors’ visits to discuss her meds and long-term plans for taking.

Of course, I could not talk about monitoring without addressing some form of recordkeeping. I have kept a record of all medications prescribed to me over the years for various ailments, from dental procedures to back pain caused by a car accident. List all of your medications, dosages, and why they were prescribed for you. Also include any over-the-counter medications you take. Be sure to share with your doctor.

Prescription opioids are powerful, and can be harmful with long-term use. If you have concerns, talk to your doctor and ask about alternative ways to address chronic pain and/or new methods for pain management. Be most aware of the synthetic opioids that are coming into the market. If it involves someone close to you, look for warning signs. Either way, it is important to find or get help.

To watch “Chasing the Dragon” go to www.fbi.gov/chasingthedragon

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