Use of prescription drugs for non-medical use among teens is on the rise. These painkillers such as OxyContin, Vicodin, and Percocet are prescribed as strong painkillers to people who need them, but teens often obtain the pills and abuse them for non-medical use.
Because these pills are technically legal, many hold the misconception that they are safe. However, while these pills may be safe to use for short-term pain treatment, using them for longer periods of time – especially if there is no pain to treat in the first place – increases the risk of addiction.
Teen Abuse of Painkillers
According to recent surveys funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the number of teens who reported using OxyContin in 2007 has increased 30% since 2002. About 5% of 12th-graders reported abusing the drug for non-medical purposes at least once in the year before being surveyed, and nearly 1 in 10 12th-graders reported abusing Vicodin. While Vicodin contains both hydrocodone (a synthetic opiate) and acetaminophen, and Percocet contains acetaminophen and oxycodone (also an opiate), OxyContin contains only oxycodone. This makes the abuse potential much greater; abusers simply crush the tablets, and then ingest the powder.
A teen who first got hooked on crushed-up OxyContin at a party says that he’d start to feel sick if he didn’t have a pill every day or two, after only trying it a week earlier.
It was like somebody was inside of your head with a hammer,” he recalled. “You feel like you’re going to die. Just laying there in the bed, sweat pouring off of you… five minutes later, you’re freezing… then you’d be throwing up.
Another way that teens may get hooked on painkillers is that pills like Vicodin and Percocet are often used to treat pain from wisdom teeth removal. Teens are often given enough pills to last them for a month, when the pain of this dental surgery may only last around a week. Teens who have taken these pills for a week or so may continue using them despite the pain having lessened, which can lead to dependence and then possibly abuse of the drug.
Overcoming an Addiction to Painkillers
People who begin with OxyContin, a legal opiate, can possibly progress on to heroin, an illegal opiate. And the street price of heroin is much cheaper than OxyContin pills. As if this weren’t frightening enough, researchers at Rockefeller University have recently found that adolescents who regularly use OxyContin are more likely to suffer from permanent changes in the brain.
The study says that the drug affects the reward system of the brain, making teens more susceptible to the euphoric and rewarding effects of the drug because the brain undergoes significant changes during adolescence. Use of these opioids during the teen years, then, is especially dangerous. The fact that up to 5% of teenagers have reported abusing OxyContin in the past year is scary, especially when you consider that this number only includes the people admitting to use.
At Benchmark Recovery Center, many of our patients have struggled with an addiction to painkillers. Often, this drug addiction began in their teenage years. We understand the challenges that come with overcoming addiction to painkillers, and can help our residents overcome this addiction and begin a life of sobriety.