It’s the kind of drug addiction that starts out in the open, right in the face of the people you love most. You can justify it at first, it’s legal after all. You purchase it at the pharmacy and it’s been prescribed to you by a doctor. You’re not meeting dealers in dark alleys.
But, before too long, you require a higher dosage to achieve the same effect and you realise (or keep denying) that you’ve become addicted to the medication that was originally prescribed to help you.
This is happening across the globe with opioids – a class of drugs that span the legal and the illegal. Pain killers are a derivative of opioids, so is heroin. Both forms of the drug act on opioid receptors in the brain and can result in the same feeling of euphoric anaesthesia. Both drugs are highly, highly addictive.
For doctors, opioids are an easy fix. Perfect for alleviating acute pain in patients after an operation or an accident. And especially useful in treating those with chronic pain, a more difficult condition to pin down and cure.
But over-prescription of opioids has lead to an ‘epidemic’ of addiction in the U.S. An epidemic that saw 52,404 deaths from overdoses in 2015, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And the number of deaths involving any form of opioid quadruple since 1999.
In Australia, the same thing is happening. The National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) released a report last week showing how the rate of accidental deaths due to opioids has more than doubled among Australians aged 35-44 in the last 10 years. More than two thirds of these accidental deaths are due to prescription opioids.