Drugs come in many shapes and forms – from leaves to crystals, powder to pills. Yet while we often associate street drugs with ‘hard drugs’, legally-available drugs such as prescription medication and even alcohol are just as destructive, if not even more destructive, than illegal drugs such as heroin and cocaine. However, not all drugs are created equal.
While heroin was originally developed as an alternative to morphine, it has since been outlawed in most countries, save for a select few medical cases in the United Kingdom where it is rarely prescribed (as diamorphine). Meanwhile, many prescription drugs that continue to cause overdose deaths throughout the United States are arguably still critically important in pain management, and the practice of modern medicine.
Many are quick to decry all opioids as pure poison and point towards statistics showing rampant abuse and opioid consumption far exceeding the rest of the world, while many others point towards stories and anecdotes of loved ones and children being denied pain medication, causing traumatic experiences and life-altering pain.
For many who are forced to take a pill to deal with something excruciating, there is no easy answer for the question of addiction. However, no one develops an addiction overnight. It is a gradual process, and it begins with making the wrong choices and a few mistakes. Here are several things that should be kept in mind when attempting to avoid a prescription drug addiction in the US healthcare system.
Follow Doctor’s Orders
Although some might argue that Western societies are more susceptible to pain due to a more open interpretation of what counts as discomfort and what truly requires medication, one of the primary reasons why the opioid market is significantly larger in the United States than in any other Western nation is the presence and power of pharmaceutical lobbying in politics, as well as the lack of universal healthcare.
This often means that rather than receiving the right treatment, many Americans are given an option between an expensive non-opioid solution to their pain not covered by an insurer (such as expensive rehab and physical therapy for a torn rotator cuff), and a cheaper drug that will numb the pain for a fraction of the price, due to being covered by the insurer. Meanwhile, many doctors were previously incentivized to recommend painkillers and other prescription drugs to patients by pharmaceutical sales agents, effectively kickstarting and fueling the opioid epidemic in the 1990s alongside a massive swathe of pro-pharma advertisements, before the FCC declared many of them banned.
Despite this, doctors do often have their patients’ best interests in mind. Although they are aware that most of their patients can only afford the opioid rather than an alternative treatment, they carefully instruct patients on how and when to take their opioids, and many reserve opioid prescriptions for severe pain only, telling patients to rely on over-the-counter medicine to begin with. So, the first step to avoiding a prescription drug addiction when faced with a condition that requires you to take a pill, is to strictly follow what the doctor says.
Ask About Alternatives
Prescription drugs are not always the only form of treatment covered by your insurer. While this is one of the issues plaguing the American healthcare system, it never hurts to ask. If you’re worried about the potential risk of substance dependence, ask your doctor about alternatives.
It is not recommended to try herbal supplements as an alternative to prescription medication. While these can be very helpful, the emphasis is on ‘can’. All herbal supplements are unregulated by the FDA, and therefore do not have to conform to any standards regarding the efficacy of the substance, or the strength of each capsule. This might mean that no two dosages are completely alike.
Consider speaking to your doctor before you decide to take any supplements, as they may be interfering with your existing medication. If you decide to take different supplements at once, speak to your doctor about possible interactions. While they might not seem related at first glance, for example, melatonin and antidepressants can interact with one another. As can antidepressant herbal supplements, such as the serotonin-increasing St. John’s Wort.
Focus on Lifestyle Changes and Supplementary Treatment
Opting to forego prescription medication is not recommended when a physician tells you that you have no alternatives. However, if you do have alternatives, then consider pursuing them. In many cases, focusing on lifestyle changes and supplementary treatments can do a great deal to mitigate the symptoms of whatever it may be you’re dealing with without requiring you to take prescription medication.
No amount of lifestyle changes will strictly help with the pain of a broken arm as it slowly heals, but plenty of rest, compression, ice, heat, regular movement and rehabilitative exercises can help you deal with the pain of a healing shoulder after a minor tendon injury, or the post-operative pain you will encounter after major surgery on a torn tendon. Some pain can be lessened tremendously simply by taking care of the injured site properly, but other pain won’t go away without a pill.
Understand the Risks
Taking the example of opioid medication, enduring the pain still potentially means you’re paying a different price. The psychological toll of pain is severe, and proper pain management not only lessens pain, but it cuts the chances of developing chronic pain as a result of ongoing severe pain. If you’ve been an addict to a different drug in the past, severe pain may be a catalyst to push you towards taking that drug instead of pain medication, which will cause a relapse.
Speak to your physician about your past as an addict, and your worries regarding addictive prescription medication. They may likely have a medically-sound opinion to help you make the right choice and find a way through this issue without becoming addicted to prescription drugs. Developing an addiction to a substance requires long-term use, as well as a habit towards using the drug as a means to cope with issues that you should be coping with without the drug.