Pubdate: Mon, 15 Mar 2004
Source: Daily Herald (IL)
Copyright: 2004 The Daily Herald Company
Author: Tona Kunz, Daily Herald Staff Writer
Bookmark: ( Chronic Pain )


Deep rubs and hot packs used to soothe the aches and pains that start
in your 30s.

In the past decade, a host of new medicines have made ready fixes
available in a pill bottle.

But the new treatments have a dire drawback: potential addiction.

Now doctors are seeing a new type of drug addict: one who didn't start
out seeking a high.

More than 4 million people nationally are hooked on legal drugs, most
falling prey to addiction by trying to ease the normal aches and pains
of aging.

Their sheer numbers are shocking doctors who were used to seeing
mainly teens and senior citizens abusing prescription drugs.

"There is a steady stream of people that are hooked on opiates (pain
killers), and it is a result of several things: the accessibility of
illegal opiates through the Internet, the growth of pain clinics and a
greater emphasis in pain control by physicians," said Jeffery Johnson,
a family practitioner and addiction specialist at the behavioral
health clinic at Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield.

As new medications with fewer side effects have come on the market,
more people have been exposed to them - and tempted to abuse them.

In the past year, twice as many patients at Johnson's clinic are
seeking help for addiction to prescription drugs.

The typical patients are in their 30s and 40s and had been trying to
control pain from a back surgery or injuries.

"I have heard patients say, 'Yeah, I was eating them like candy,'" he
said. "That is when you know it is no longer for pain. It has crossed
the line."

A New Type of Patient

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reported a 181 percent increase
in abuse of pain killers nationwide from 1990 to 1998, the most recent
figures available. The number of people abusing prescription drugs
roughly equals the number of those who abuse cocaine, up to 4 percent
of the population.

The institute's survey of doctors and researchers from 21 cities
across the country found abuse widespread. For example, doctors
reported a 400 percent increase in emergency room visits for use of
oxycondone, the active ingredient in OxyContin, a painkiller commonly

Health officials blame the rise in abuse, in part, to an increased
willingness by doctors to prescribe pain and anxiety medications,
stronger drugs and the growth in the pain clinic market.

"You have some doctors whose goal is a pain-free America, but at the
same time you have addicted America," said Richard Ready, medical
director of New Day Center of Hinsdale Hospital.

Across the suburbs, hospitals and substance abuse clinics estimate
prescription pill abuse has as much as tripled in the past year, with
admittance to individual addiction clinics typically jumping from less
than a dozen patients a year to a dozen a month lately.

While the pain-killers have legitimate medical uses, doctors say,
their prevalence has spawned a society that is quick to hit the
medicine cabinet.

"You can tolerate a certain level of pain," Ready said. "Sometimes
people think your pain level should be zero, but everyone is walking
around with some back pain or neck pain. It's natural."

It's not just the rising numbers of prescription drug abusers that
have made doctors take note, but the type of patient.

"These types of people are people who work every day and who
function," said Linda Lewaniak, clinical director for chemical
dependency services at Alexian Brothers Behavioral Health Hospital in
Hoffman Estates. "They don't really understand the abuse potential."

80 Pills a Day

Mary Parks has seen just about every type of abuser since she got
clean six years ago with the help of Pills Anonymous, a support group
at Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge. Since then, she's started
chapters in Hinsdale, Winfield and Downers Grove. Alexian Brothers
Behavioral Health Center in Hoffman Estates hopes to start a chapter

But Parks is somewhat disheartened by the scarcity of success stories
she's seen at the nightly meetings.

"It is really hard to stay off pills because people rationalize that
their doctor gave them to them," she said. "It's something that a lot
of people are in denial about."

Doctors say most addicts started taking pills for the right reasons
but failed to notice the signs of a growing dependence until it was
too late.

The reasons for addictions vary between men and women. Men are most
commonly affected after taking pills to deal with the back, knee and
neck pain that comes with growing older.

A few women, up to 10 percent, get hooked on anti-anxiety or sleeping
pills, often because they fall into that small segment of the
population whose chemical makeup reacts to the drugs or intensifies
the dosage. Much more common, close to 90 percent, doctors say, are
women hooked on pain killers, usually started to deal with migraines.

Headaches plagued Parks. She was prescribed pain pills, and at first
she enjoyed the high she got along with the loss of pain. But
eventually the high lessened as her tolerance increased, and 80 pills
a day were needed just to maintain a feeling of normalcy.

It's a psychological trap that makes users think their medical
condition remains when really it's withdrawal.

Typically, prescription medication addicts take three to five days to
detoxify but can still have muscle aches and flu-like withdrawal
symptoms for three to five weeks.

"The pills," Parks says, "are calling out for more pills." 
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