Although it sounds so cliche, a common theme we’re still hearing—despite all of the opioid epidemic media coverage —is, “We didn’t think this could happen to our family.” National news paints a macro picture; lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies like Purdue, the Federal Government’s “war on drugs,” with the occasional story of a celebrity or athlete’s personal struggle with opioid addiction, such a Dax Shepard. Local news may pick up the same stories, and dig deeper on a micro level—but rarely do we hear or read that our friends, neighbors, community members and the like, are dead due to an accidental overdose, or any number of opioid-related premature deaths.
While there are multiple layers as to why opioid addiction remains secret, even when it’s frequently in and out of our medicine cabinets, the stigma attached to struggling with a substance use disorder and the fact that the original prescription is usually Doctor prescribed are two of the preeminent reasons for this cloak of silence.
From a subjective standpoint, we asked our family members about their personal experiences with opioids over the last few years. Here’s a snapshot of what we discovered:
- Julie’s dad, sober and in recovery—prescribed OxyContin and OxyCodone for back pain and then post back surgery
- Our son, no challenges with substance abuse—prescribed OxyContin and OxyCodone for ACL knee surgery
- Julie’s mom, longterm sobriety—prescribed OxyContin for broken arm
- Clay’s dad, no challenges with substance abuse—prescribed OxyContin and OxyCodone for broken leg
- Courtney, sober, in recovery, and a co-founder of Roots— prescribed Hydrocodone after surgery
Our list actually goes on; however, a key element is our addiction education and heightened awareness of our own illness and/or the genetic predisposition to the illness of substance abuse. We help provide framework around dispensing opioid according to how its prescribed medically, and also help to monitor when to taper off it…and continually check in to see how said person is fairing. This transition is critical.
The American Psychiatric Association reported in 2018 that an estimated 2 million people in the US struggle who with substance use disorder do so because of prescription opiates. The concerning aspect is that whether these prescriptions were/are legitimate or not, long-term use raises the risk for addiction exponentially. And a vulnerable individual who has experienced trauma, grief, and loss may take to the feelings produced by opioids much faster.
Once an individual becomes physically dependent on opiates, running out of a prescription begins the next stage of withdrawal. Unfortunately, first time opiate users who become dependent aren’t familiar with the knowledge of what withdrawal feels like. The only goal becomes not to feel sick. We have heard this same story over and over again with people who have struggled with opiate abuse that begins with prescriptions: they are so uncomfortable once the prescription bottle is out that they do everything in their power not only to feel well, but euphoric again. The only option is to go to the streets to acquire opiates. However, the individual will shortly realize that heroin is far cheaper than prescription opiates, thus begins a long journey of addiction.
Which brings us back to the critical transitions that take place when you, or someone you love is prescribed an opiate to ease pain relief. Regardless of whether a vulnerability to addiction exists, please put a plan in place to ensure safe usage and even more vital safe withdrawal.