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Painkillers, or scientifically known as analgesics come in all shapes and sizes. Most analgesics come in the form of opioids, a specific chemical used to relieve pain of all levels by inducing morphine-like effects. These painkillers while having helped millions cope with their unbearable pain, come with dire side-effects that range from heroin addiction to death. It is reported by CNN that some 2.7 million grandparents and/or relatives in the United States are taking care of children whose parents are not fit to handle children (due to their opioid addiction). Some 400,000 children are in foster care due to cases of both parents suffering from opioid addiction. Let’s take a look at what you need to know about the next set of painkiller medication prescribed to you.

1. Types of Opioids

There are 2 types of opioids. The first is a class that’s relatively weak and does little harm unless taken in excess. This group consists of codeine and dihydrocodeine, the most commonly prescribed painkiller in the U.S. and comes in many doses based on level of pain experienced by the patient. It is most commonly taken orally. The second group is much stronger and is home to one of the most well-known drug related to addiction, heroin. Heroin also happens to be a form of morphine as it is classed as diamorphine in scientific terms.

2. What is the Link Between Painkillers and Heroin?

Well, the answer to the meme above is yes and no. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), prescription painkillers can be a gateway to heroin addiction. The most common drugs that act as a gateway belong to the stronger class of opioids that include Vicodin and OcyContin. The issue with this is that medication such as Vicodin and Oxycontin are expensive and as soon as an addict of these drugs no longer has access to them and requires a cheaper alternative, heroin is what they turn to. The Federal Drug Association (FDA) states that one of the major components of opium (the main substance in most painkillers) is morphine and since diamorphine is heroin, well, you get the picture.

3. What are the Effects of Opioid Addiction

Since opioids generally mess with one’s nervous system, an overdose of this substance can lead to numbness and a gradual increase in tolerance of pain. While some may think that experiencing less physical pain is a good thing, we must remember that pain is a sensation that exists for a reason and is there to warn the human body of internal and external dangers that may cause harm. Besides that, drug abuse in general also causes liver, kidney and brain damage. All of this can lead to a cascade of events that can ruin many lives and in some severe cases, cause death.

4. What are the Signs & Symptoms to Watch Out For?

If you are concerned about a particular loved one or a friend with regards to opioid addiction, here are some behavioural signs to look out for:

• Lying or other deceptive behavior

• Avoiding eye contact, or distant field of vision

• Substantial increases in time spent sleeping

• Increase in slurred, garbled or incoherent speech

• Sudden worsening of performance in school or work, including expulsion or loss of jobs

• Decreasing attention to hygiene and physical appearance

• Loss of motivation and apathy toward future goals

• Withdrawal from friends and family, instead spending time with new friends with no natural tie

• Lack of interest in hobbies and favorite activities

• Repeatedly stealing or borrowing money from loved ones, or unexplained absence of valuables

• Hostile behaviors toward loved ones, including blaming them for withdrawal or broken commitments

• Regular comments indicating a decline in self esteem or worsening body image

• Wearing long pants or long sleeves to hide needle marks, even in very warm weather

5. How to Get Help?

Opioid addiction and misuse isn’t exclusive to the United States and can happen anywhere, including Malaysia. Prevention is always better than cure and following your prescription as advised by the doctor should keep anyone out of harm’s way. However, some people tend to have different tolerance levels with regard to the trigger point of addiction to certain drugs. Hence, if you happen to know someone who is abusing any type of opioid or are suffering from it yourself, visit a rehabilitation centre. Available ones in Malaysia are those in government hospitals all around the country as well as some by a Non-Profit Organization and Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) by the name of PENGASIH that helps with all kinds of drug addiction. Click here for contact details.

In the end, I hope you now know a little bit more about the dangers of abusing your painkillers and why it has exploded into the epidemic we see today. Just a simple mistake is all it takes for any of us to slip into drug abuse. So, I advise everyone out there to be aware of opioid misuse and to always be there for those close to you who are currently suffering from the addiction.



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