Most of us at some point in our adult lives have experienced an injury or had a procedure that has required us to take prescription painkillers to help ease the pain. We’re warned that prescription painkillers can be addictive, but we think we can stop ourselves before we get to that point, we think we have more control, that it won’t happen to us…but unfortunately for 2.4 million people across the United States (in 2013) who are dependent or abusing prescription painkillers that’s just not the case. The numbers are staggering, and downright frightening. Believe it or not, but in 2012 opioid prescription painkillers were the second most abused illicit drug and four times as many people were dependent on painkillers than heroin (2.1 million vs. 467,000) even though opioid dependence is a chronic disease.
If you or someone you know is experiencing opioid dependence there is help. I was joined by Dr. Adam Rubinstein, (NorthShore University HealthSystem and Medical Director of the Behavioral Health Service Line, Advocate Healthcare) and patient John Friend (who has been in recovery from opioid dependence since 2006) for an interview recently and they discussed the opioid dependence epidemic in the United States, John’s brave road to recovery, the signs and symptoms to look for, and how you can get help.
Candace Rose: Dr. Rubinstein, let’s start with you. Why are so many Americans experiencing opioid dependence?
Dr. Adam Rubinstein: “This is an epidemic in the United States. In 2013 there were nearly 2.4 million reports of people age 12 and older who were either abusing or dependent on opioids by prescription across the country. This is a huge problem. Opioids are available everywhere from the local doctor’s office to the emergency room, pain clinics after surgery.
Unfortunately people from all walks of life are at risk if they’re not taking their medicine exactly as prescribed or for other uncomplicated reasons they may end up abusing and then ultimately becoming dependent on those opioids.”
Candace Rose: What are some of the signs and symptoms that someone may be dependent on opioid prescription painkillers?
Dr. Adam Rubinstein: “We can look for subtle changes in people whom we love. Initially they may start telling little lies and not keeping their promises, having difficulties at work or in school and then they’ll have more fights, irritability, insomnia, going to the doctor multiple times or doctor shopping. When people see that they should think there might be an opioid dependence problem. There can be questionnaires that can be filled out to help validate that, that’s what’s really going on. There’s a website Suboxone.com where one can work to fill that out for yourself or a loved one. It helps to clarify the issue.”
Candace Rose: Can you tell us about your road to recovery, John?
John Friend: “Sure, thanks for asking. My road began at age 19 when I was a freshman in college. I had an injury in my back when I was weightlifting and I received a prescription for oxycodone, a highly potent narcotic and my life revolved around medicating the pain. As I became tolerant it required more and more. It was just to feel normal. It was not to get high or anything like that and as a result I lost a lot of trust in loved ones and it ended relationships. I derailed my college education and suffered financially, emotionally and spiritually.
I discovered that my doctor could prescribe SUBOXONE sublingual film out of his private practice, and it’s a medication that I take with everyday. Along with counseling and support in my situation, that’s what’s worked for me. I’ve been able to mend fences and I can be the real John. I don’t have to make my life be so involved with finding doctors and taking more medications, I get to live my life, enjoy my family and friends and have healthy normal relationships without the burden of opioid addiction on my back. It’s great and it’s a blessing.”
Candace Rose: What would you say to people who may be struggling with opioid dependence?
John Friend: “I would say that you don’t have to suffer alone and suffer in silence. You are not the only one that’s dealing with this. There are many options that do exist to treat this and the most important thing would be to just talk to your doctor, that’s a great first point of contact. If not, try the website SUBOXONE.com and learn more information from there.”
Candace Rose: Do you have any advice for people who want to get help, John?
John Friend: “For anybody that wants to get help, I would say ‘What’s stopping you?’ Use some of these resources that are available and get connected with some certified professionals. The treatment option for you might be the right choice to use Suboxone sublingual film, it might work for you.”
Candace Rose: Dr Rubinstein, Do you have any advice if someone you know may be struggling with opioid dependence?
Dr. Adam Rubinstein: “Absolutely. I would say the first thing to do is to recognize the frustration you feel at an individual may make you feel like they’re a bad person or you may think that they’re morally deficient or they’re really not trying. The fact is that they have a medical condition that affects their brain. It’s long lasting, it can be visualized on scans and it’s something that can be controlled and treated like other medical conditions.
You want to hold the individual responsible for their actions but when they’re reaching out for help or when they’re in the throws of their problem, if we can help connect them to someone who is able to improve their situation such as a local physician or someone in the community who is certified, that individual will be a patient and somebody who is trying to get better from a chronic disease that involves the brain rather than someone who we say ‘Oh, they’re just making bad choices and we’re going to discount them’. We all need to do that around America in order to help this epidemic get stemmed and to save lives.”
Candace Rose: Absolutely. Where can we all go for more information?
Dr. Adam Rubinstein: “Suboxone.com is a good website to go to. It has information not only about the illness itself, but the disease of opioid dependence. It has several treatment options, it can connect you directly from the site to providers in communities all across America who are certified to prescribe or give different treatment options. There’s even a questionnaire on there so you can learn about whether or not you or a loved one really has this problem as a first step towards seeking help in the privacy of a doctor’s office.”