Pain pill addictions, overdose deaths on the rise

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In the wake of Prince's passing more people are talking about the problem of prescription pill addiction.  One Houston drug treatment professional is also speaking out about the issue.  In fact, he just returned from testifying before Congress.  “My visit with Congress was to educate them about the approaches that are available about treatment,” explains CEO of Memorial Hermann Prevention and Recovery Center Matt Feehery. 


Feehery gave testimony about opioids such as Morphine, Hydrocodone, Oxycodone and OxyContin which are used to treat severe pain.  There are 259-million pain prescriptions written in America, per year.  ”That's enough for every adult person in the United States to have a 30 day supply,” adds Feehery who also says five times as many people are now dying from opioid overdose compared to five years ago.


What's behind the increase in pain pill addiction?  “Unfortunately many of them (pain pills) were incorrectly marketed to physicians, which is really the genesis of this whole opioid crisis.  If you go back to the mid 90's when OxyContin first came on the market and a few other medications, they were touted as they wouldn't be habit forming”.  Feehery says that can't be further from the truth.


Try telling John Bell they are not addictive.  “I was addicted to Soma and Hydrocodone,” explains Bell who says he became addicted after having surgery but the more pills he took the more pain he felt.  “And I'm bent over like this and I'm working out.  I mean I looked 95 years old.  If I fall down I can't get up.  I can't really hold things, dropping stuff all over the place.  I'm thinking wow at 62 years old I'm dying,” admits Bell and every time he tried to stop taking the pills?  “My brain felt like it was on fire”.


“For that person who begins to seek that medication over and over, it's really about the brain saying I need this substance to take care of that need,” explains Feehery.  That's how opioids work.  The chemicals attach to receptors in your brain and reduce the perception of pain, affecting the region of the brain involving pleasure.  “They work on the part of the brain where you need dopamine to function.  That's the kind of thing that makes everything possible.  It tells you to eat.  It tells you to sleep.  It tells you to reproduce.  It tells you all those things.  It's the pleasure center of the brain,” explains Feehery.


Opioids can also cause mental confusion, slowed breathing and tell your brain you can't live without them.  “Opioids are a powerfully addictive medication,” and Feehery overdosing, unfortunately, happens way too easily.  “You pretty much just go to sleep.  It's like a blackout you never come out from.  You go to sleep and never wake up.  It just shuts the body down”.  


Just as Feehery testified, he says stopping the crisis starts with doctor's decreasing the number of pain pill prescriptions written, as the CDC is now recommending.  Although, those addicted often turn to the opioid heroin when they can't get pills.  Feehery is encouraging anyone with addiction to get help.  He says drug treatment is very effective.


Bell has been drug free for two years.  “It broke me.  I was broken when I got here to PARC for drug treatment,” explains Bell.  


If you are suffering addiction, “I want to tell them that there's hope.  That's the most important thing.  There's hope.  You don't have to do it alone.  You can't do it alone,” says Bell.


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