The Low-Down on Numbing Up: A New Look at the Pain Killer Trend

Anyone who’s had wisdom teeth removed or suffered a substantial injury like a fractured collarbone or broken leg may attest to the availability of opioid prescriptions such as Vicodin, Percocet or OxyCotin. They may also be able to vouch for the feelings of euphoria that accompany these pharmaceutical drugs.

If you’ve never received a prescription for a pain killer, seriously ask one of your friends, because the availability of pharmaceutical painkillers (as well as stimulants) is on the rise.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, between 1991 and 2010 the number of prescriptions for painkillers jumped from 75.5 million to 209.5 million for opioid analgesics. Similarly, the numbers of prescriptions for stimulants — think study drugs — have increased from approximately 5 million to over 45 million.

These numbers make you wonder what exactly has occurred over the last ten years that has caused this apparent rise in physical trauma, as evidenced by the rise in painkiller prescriptions. Are pharmaceutical companies that produce these drugs (as well as the pharmacies that distribute them) profiting from people’s desire to self-medicate? I’ll let you come to your own conclusions.

One consequence of this growing number of people consuming and often abusing prescription medication is the absurdly large number of users who accidentally overdose and die as a consequence.

In fact, the number of individuals who accidentally overdose on painkillers has quadrupled since 1999. What’s even scarier is that the number of accidental overdoses from opioid medications like Vicodin and OxyCotin is larger than the number of heroin, cocaine and every other illegal substance overdoses combined. In fact, opioid analgesic overdose is the single largest cause of accidental death in America, surpassing car accidents in 2009, according to the Wall Street Journal.

In our culture, we place so much trust in our doctors and our pharmacists to look out for our best interests. It’s time, however, to acknowledge that the harmless looking white pills (which bear so much resemblance to the harmless aspirin in our medicine cabinets) could be more lethal than you think. Dun dun dun.

But seriously, is OxyCotin as lethal as, say, heroin? In short, I say yes. Both drugs target the same brain receptors, which are responsible for what can develop into an insurmountable physical addiction. Both drugs create long lasting cravings, damage pleasure pathways and create huge, snowball-effect tolerances.

You may ask, “Why the fuck is OxyCotin even prescribed to begin with?” Good question. The answer is fairly complex.

The legal status of prescription medication such as OxyCotin makes it difficult for watchdogs like the DEA to pursue. There exists a number of people who legitimately need these serious opioid medications for serious bodily injuries. The problem arises when doctors place enough trust in their patients to responsibly use these potentially abusive medications when, clearly, the temptation proves too much, especially during a painful and depressing rehabilitation process.

Furthermore, the manner in which these drugs are distributed is unlike any other “street drug.” People aren’t necessarily going to dark alleyways to score a few OxyCotin tablets. Rather, they receive these medications from family members, friends or their physician. Took a horrible fall on your bike at the roundabout? Perhaps your roommate, your neighbor, your aunt or uncle could have something a bit stronger than Aspirin or Tylenol for you.

In addition, big pharmaceutical companies can usually afford an army of lobbyists that effectively influence the government’s drug policies. I’m sure the CEO’s of such companies legitimately empathize with the parents whose 17-year-old daughter overdosed, but the enormous profits from the skyrocketing sales of such medication probably helps them sleep at night.

How do we remedy a culture in which people seek access to the most immediately gratifying “fix” to help numb their physical and emotional pain?

Whether you believe that those who accidentally overdose lack personal responsibility, or you place the blame on doctors, pharmacists or pharmaceutical companies, you cannot deny that party-going students may misperceive the dangers of consuming, and especially mixing, pharmaceuticals.

Here’s an easy tip for mixing drugs. When you choose to mix two pharmaceutical drugs, like for example Adderall and Xanax, it’s not simple addition. In terms of a mathematical analogy, Drug A plus Drug B does not equal Drug AB. When you mix drugs you’re using multiplication and division, so Drug A plus Drug B actually produces Drug C, something that may be chemically different and produce more serious side effects than taking both drugs separately.

So before you decide to use such pharmaceutical drugs, consider the possibly devastating consequences. I’m sure only a few of us would consider the option of sticking a needle in our veins to ease pain or stress, but a growing percentage of us would consider the less intimidating option of swallowing a few average looking pills.

Michael Roe only swallows above-average looking pills.

Views expressed on the Opinion page do not necessarily reflect those of the Daily Nexus or UCSB. Opinions are submitted primarily by students.