The Silent Addiction Epidemic

The Silent Addiction Epidemic

New Zealand and the United States are the only countries that allow the advertising of prescription drugs; all other countries restrict this type of advertising and leave it to the professionals to decide what is appropriate.


We hear much about the addiction to illegal street drugs, yet we hear very little about the addiction to prescription drugs. Prescription drugs that are legally obtained through the regular channels, by way of a doctor’s prescription or from a pharmacy, are rapidly becoming a bigger and bigger problem in the western world. There are reports of people going from doctor to doctor to obtain prescriptions for these legal opioids like Oxycontin, Hydrocodone, Fentanyl; and yet another even more powerful opioid recently approved by the US FDA Zohydro. There was much dissent within the FDA and the justice system about the approval of Zohydro; we need to ask the question why was yet another variant of these dangerous addictive drugs approved. Was this yet another case of lobbying and buying political influence!

10231_20171103141909-1509671949Painkillers in themselves have an important place within a patient pain management programme. These opioids are not addictive when used as intended to manage pain, but if the consumption continues after the pain has subsided you then run a serious risk of becoming addicted. I know personally from experience, after undergoing very painful old style invasive orthopaedic surgery, I was prescribed pethidine (a narcotic) during my hospital stay. After a few days I was looking forward to my visit for a new script. The Doctor’s timing was perfect as at this point my surgeon switched me to codeine, yet another opioid, but with a reduced risk of addiction. As the pain subsided from surgery I was cut back to common old aspirin. This experience showed me first-hand the path to addiction.

The things we may become addicted to include; cigarettes, alcohol, prescription drugs, street drugs, sex, chocolate, coffee, sugar and sugar based energy boost products.

There are at least seven neurotransmitters that interact and work together to balance our well-being; it’s rather like the seven strand wire fence the farmer is using. The farmer is not relying on one strand to retain the stock, all seven strands work together. In this newsletter we will comment on dopamine and serotonin, which are probably the most important feel good ones.

Dopamine is released (as a reward!) when we experience something pleasurable. Opioids produce a dopamine rush which dulls pain and reduces tension and anxiety too. A problem arises when the pain has passed and we choose to continue taking these prescription opioids because the pleasure/reward part is unopposed and runs wild. To experience the same level of pleasure it becomes necessary to take larger and larger doses as the receptors become dulled and less responsive. As the doses are increased the risk to health, both mental and physical, can increase up to become a serious risk to life.

Currently 17,000 people are dying annually in the US as a result of these prescription drugs. Americans are consuming 80% of the world’s production of these opioids yet they are only 5% of the world’s population, (is this a warning to us ... a canary in the coal mine?).

MountainsSerotonin the feel good neurotransmitter is produced by our bodies naturally from tryptophan; it is linked to feelings of well-being, reduced anxiety and depression. Mood and the pursuit of the feeling of well-being is rather like the quest for the Holy Grail; it is a place we would all like to be but unfortunately life is rather like a sign wave with its ups and downs and let’s face it without the challenges and achievements our lives would be fairly dull. It is clear from what we observe of those we share our planet with that we are drawn to challenges. For some it is to climb Everest; for others to develop the farm, landscape our homes or restore that car; maybe launch a boat and sail the oceans of the world.

There is probably a very good reason that we are drawn to challenges. Our reward is a natural high releasing those feel good neurotransmitters. When we graduate; or make landfall after battling our own demons fighting limitations of the elements, these natural highs are unlike those when we take the short cut via drugs. The drug induced high, ironically, is frequently the slippery slope to unhappiness, misery, big health problems and self-destruction. So be aware of the prescription FDA approved pharmaceutical lobby.

We say natural is best. Accept that life will hand disappointments and lows. But more importantly, appreciate your achievements; earn your rewards and highs. Life will be much richer!

Finally, be cautious of the drug industry, including those who have produced drugs to chemically increase serotonin (by reducing its uptake) such as prozac, paxil, ritalin and zoloft.