It’s hard to avoid the fact that the nation is in the midst of a major opioid epidemic, resulting in over 42,000 deaths in 2016. You hear about drug overdoses not only on the streets of big cities but even more often in small towns. Patients get addicted to opioid medications like Norco and Oxycontin. But when the supply of prescription drugs runs out, many turn to heroin to get the same relief. Or they may combine opioids with other drugs like Xanax, which slow down the breathing rate, which makes overdoses much more likely to happen.
Doctors are working to try to reduce these addictions and their tragic deaths by cracking down on opioid prescriptions. But the unintended additional result is that people who rely on opioids for managing chronic pain, including fibromyalgia patients, are being affected, too. Here’s what you need to know.
WHAT’S GOING ON WITH THE OPIOID EPIDEMIC?
The typical opioid-addicted patient looks different than how you might imagine a drug addict. Very few start out looking to get high from the medicine. Most are only looking for relief from pain and find that the medication actually works. Many people end up inadvertently addicted to opioid medications like Vicodin and Oxycontin after injuries or surgeries. Patients with fibromyalgia also get prescriptions for opioid pain relievers.
But doctors get a lot of scrutiny about how they prescribe opioids. Many doctors get nervous about prescribing opioids indefinitely. It only takes a couple weeks to become addicted to opioid medication. When doctors cut off the access to the medication, addicted patients can start to experience drug withdrawal. Many turn to illegal sources of the opioid medication, which may include prescription drugs bought on the black market. These drugs are not necessarily regulated by the FDA, so they may not contain the active ingredient. Illegal prescription drugs often contain powerful medications like fentanyl. Because fentanyl is so powerful, even very small amounts can cause fatal doses. Other patients turn to heroin instead. Any of the alternative options when patients run out of legitimate access to prescription drugs can result in overdose and death.