The United States has been in the midst of a drug abuse problem for years, but it has grown to an epidemic status in recent years due to legal painkiller over-prescription and abuse. Commonly prescribed opioid painkillers include Vicodin, Percocet, and one of the most commonly prescribed painkillers: Norco.
What Are Norco Painkillers?
Norco is the brand name for a mixture of hydrocodone bitartrate and acetaminophen, making for an opioid analgesic used to treat moderate-to-severe pain and discomfort. Hydrocodone is a controlled substance, and it’s only available with a valid prescription in the United States, though studies have shown that doctors are prescribing more hydrocodone-based medications every year.
Why Have Opioid Prescriptions Increased In Recent Years?
The increase of prescription opioids in recent years has been linked to several variables. First, the abuse of painkillers has become more common. Studies have shown that there has been an increase in the recreational use of prescription drugs in general, with opiate-based painkillers seeing the largest increase in abuse statistics. Second, studies have documented a general rise in the overall prescription rates per patient, meaning that more individuals are taking painkillers on a regular basis and for extended amount of times.
A Gateway To Opioid Addiction
Opiate-based medications are highly addictive, with a serious dependence on the drug being possible within months or even weeks of prolonged use. The longer these drugs are used, the stronger the addiction and dependence becomes. While the extended use of painkillers is often very necessary for chronic pain in certain patients, statistics show that long-term prescriptions have increased exponentially – hinting at over-prescription rather than an increased need.
While some serious diseases require strong pain medication – such as morphine or fentanyl patches – Norco and hydrocodone pills are generally prescribed for less serious procedures and short-term pain relief. Common reasons for the prescription of opioid painkillers range from dental procedures and oral surgery to broken bokes and mild-to-moderate chronic pain.
Opioid painkillers can become a gateway to addiction in 2 main ways:
- Extended Use of Painkillers: For most minor procedures that permit the prescription of Norco and other comparable painkillers, doctors surmise that the patient should be out of the discomfort and pain requiring doses in roughly 7-10 days. Though doctors recommend this specific time frame, it is very much up to the patient to follow through and work toward getting off the medication.
Very often, patients who have anxiety about pain levels will not taper off their drug usage, and rather will continue to take the medication for several weeks. Sometimes this leads to the patient missing his or her window of opportunity to taper off the drugs without any harsh side effects or symptoms of dependence.
At this point, the roots of addiction have already taken hold, and will likely cause the individual to actively search for more drugs or keep the prescriptions coming by exaggerating his or pain levels. In recent years, doctors and addiction medicine specialists have seen a large increase in patients citing this form of “extended use” as the root of their addiction.
- Recreational Prescription Drug Abuse: Another often-cited root of opioid addiction comes from using the drugs as purely recreational, and never related to any treatment for pain or discomfort. Teens and young adults are often found in this category – purchasing the prescription pills from friends or on the streets, or taking leftover painkillers from household medicine cabinets.
The recreational abuse of Norco and other painkillers is truly playing with fire, because just as quickly as addiction and dependence can sneak up with extended medical use of the drugs, it can sneak up just as quickly with only a few weeks of recreational use.
Though this is often seen in young adults and teens, addiction due to recreation painkiller abuse is being seen more in the age ranges of 30 to 45, and even in seniors 65 or older. The reasons adults begin to abuse prescription painkillers are varied, but no age group is invincible from drug dependence and addiction.
How Opioid Painkillers Can Lead To Stronger Drugs
In the United States, not only do we have rampant prescription drug use ravaging the country, we have also seen a uniform increase in heroin abuse, addiction, overdoses and deaths.
Why does the rate of heroin abuse and prescription painkiller abuse rise in relation to each other? Both are made from opium, have similar chemical structures, work on the same pleasure-related regions of our brains, and – the most important factor – each drug can be a supplement for the other during withdrawal. In short, an individual suffering from hydrocodone and prescription opioid withdrawal symptoms can satisfy the cravings by using heroin, while heroin addicts can allay their withdrawal symptoms with painkillers.
With heroin and prescription opioids being two different types of essentially the same kind of drug, you will see the figures for the abuse of both rise together. The most troubling evidence of this is seen in those that unwittingly became dependent on legitimately prescribed opioid painkillers, and have resorted to using heroin after the prescription drugs were no longer available. Drug treatment centers and counselors in Florida and across the United States have seen an increase in patients seeking treatment for heroin addiction that originally started as addiction to painkillers and opioids.
How Do We Treat And Prevent Opioid Addiction?
If there is any silver lining to the fact we have more people in our country addicted to heroin and prescription opioids than ever before, it is the fact the issue cannot be ignored any longer. Also, we now know we have to take real steps to not only treat those who have already become addicted, but to prevent anyone else from getting swept up in this epidemic.
Lawmakers, medical professionals and addiction counselors are all doing their part to raise awareness about this national emergency, as well as studying further into the root causes of addiction and how to effectively treat it.
Prescription drug drop-off events are becoming quite regular all over the country, a frontline in preventing the initial abuse of prescription drugs. Opioid monitoring programs have been implemented in many states to keep track of not only how often individuals are being prescribed dangerous drugs, but also how often individual doctors are prescribing these drugs to their patients.
Doctor shopping laws have also taken hold in certain states, which promotes record keeping between prescribers to better recognize those that are doctor shopping – or seeing multiple doctors with the intent of being prescribed more pills.
As for the treatment of withdrawal symptoms associated with detox from opioids, the process is getting easier with the help of new medications that ease the symptoms, coupled with new forms of counseling and medically sound rehabilitation.
What is needed most of all is wider knowledge of just how dangerous and addictive hydrocodone combinations such as Norco, Lortab and Vicodin can be if misused, and to teach the importance of reducing the longevity of use of painkillers to avoid dependence.
For those that the disease of addiction has already touched, it is important to seek treatment as early into the addiction as possible. A full recovery from opioid and dependence IS POSSIBLE, and it starts with admitting the problem and accepting any help that is available.
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