Since Dr. M.K. (Khal) El-Yousef founded Fairwinds Treatment Center 25 years ago, he has helped the victims of numerous American drug trends face their substance abuse and start down the path toward a lasting recovery. Unfortunately, the misuse of prescription narcotics has become an epidemic currently sweeping our nation, pulling millions of people into the vice-like grip of addiction and putting them at risk of overdose and even death. Now, a new study reveals that many Americans who abuse prescription drugs, such as Vicodin and Oxycontin, are not even educated about the risk of overdose, and don't know what to do if it happens.
The study surveyed 46 participants between the ages of 18 and 32, finding that many prescription painkiller users erroneously believe that their drug abuse is not dangerous compared to that of heroin addicts. This appears to give them a false sense of security that could prove fatal. As study author David Frank points out, opioids and heroin are chemically similar and can both cause overdoses. While one substance may have been prescribed by a doctor, they can both be extremely risky when misused.
"Stigma lies at the heart of the problems highlighted in this article," Jack Stein, director of the office of science policy and communications at the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), tells U.S. News and World Report. "Societal stigma against heroin abuse and associated ignorance about heroin addiction has prevented those who become addicted to prescription opioids from recognizing their abuse as similar to, and equally dangerous as, heroin abuse."
One major difference between heroin and opioid abusers, according to the newly released research: The former seem to be better prepared to handle an overdose if it happens. In contrast, the study found that users of non-medical prescription narcotics knew relatively little about preventing and responding to overdoses. When asked to explain how they would help a friend who had ingested too much of a given narcotic, many of the participants mentioned relatively ineffective tactics such as slapping them or putting them in a cold shower.
The researchers suggest that schools should move to educate high school and college students about prescription drug overdose prevention and treatment, including the use of naxolone, a substance that can be used to reverse an overdose episode and is available for free in some states. The scientists speculate that prescription drug addicts are not turning to the educational resources that are traditionally aimed at heroin users, and thus are failing to get important, potentially life-saving information. Many such services are known as syringe exchange programs (SEPs). Because most prescription narcotics users do not use needles, they likely see little need to seek out such resources, and may even actively resist doing so.
"Many participants drew clear distinctions between nonmedical [prescription opiate] use and heroin use, and even those who transitioned to heroin tended to maintain identity-based distinctions between themselves and those they perceived as 'junkies,'" Frank says in a press release. "Their desire to uphold this distinction affected their willingness to utilize such services, which are often stigmatized."
NIDA estimates that more than 5 million Americans now misuse painkillers, with nearly 10 percent of current high school seniors abusing Vicodin and 5 percent misusing Oxycontin. If you or a loved one is struggling with drug abuse, contact Fairwinds Treatment Center, one of the best addiction treatment centers in the country. Our unique dual diagnosis methodology combines clinical treatment with therapeutic counseling to address substance abuse as well as the psychological, mental and/or emotional issues that caused or worsened it. This personalized approach promotes comprehensive healing and a lasting recovery.