Have you ever given a friend a painkiller to soothe a sore back, or maybe an anti-anxiety pill before a long flight? If so, you might have inadvertently contributed to a serious substance abuse problem and upped your friend’s chance for a deadly overdose.
The Deadly Dealer Next Door
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has studied the causes and effects of substance abuse on Americans for decades. It recently found that the U.S. population’s reliance on prescription drugs has resulted in the most serious addiction epidemic the country has ever faced. Although legislators, law enforcement and medical professionals originally assumed that people who struggle with addiction buy their supplies on the street, it turns out the worst problems result from those who get their drugs from “safe” places: friends and doctors’ offices.
Although the CDC found that people who abuse the highest volume of prescription drugs engage in an illegal practice called “doctor shopping” — where they visit multiple physicians and pharmacies to get more than one prescription while avoiding detection — those who are at the highest risk of fatal overdose are those who get drugs for free from friends or family. Those who engage in chronic drug abuse have a higher tolerance and may be less likely to overdose fatally than those with a less severe substance addiction problem.
How Prescription Painkillers Work
People who take prescription painkillers develop a tolerance to them that requires taking more and more of the drug. That is why people who take huge amounts of painkillers do not immediately overdose. The body loses its tolerance quickly, which is why those individuals who return to using after a long period of abstinence are at a higher risk of overdose. A person who takes painkillers only sporadically — especially if that person combines the drug with another depressant, such as alcohol — is more likely to overdose, because the body has not built up a tolerance against the drug and taking too much will stop breathing.
The bottom line? Casual abuse can be just as deadly as addiction.