Drug addiction affects millions of people around the world, but contrary to what many believe, it is not always illegal drugs that cause the problem. A growing number of individuals are developing addictions to strong painkillers prescribed by GPs for legitimate reasons.
This issue was highlighted by the recent death of pop legend Prince as well as the death of Michael Jackson in 2009. While toxicology reports on Prince have not yet been finalised, many believe the star’s addiction to prescription medication resulted in an accidental overdose similar to that of other stars including Jackson, Health Ledger, and Elvis Presley.
Prescription medications include codeine, morphine and methadone and these drugs are typically prescribed to treat conditions such as chronic pain, sleep disorders, anxiety disorder, and ADHD. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for those who take them to develop problems such as morphine or codeine addiction.
Percocet is the prescription drug believed to have been taken by Prince, and this highly addictive painkiller was also abused by other stars including Michael Jackson and Gerald Levert, who died in 2006 after taking a cocktail of prescription medications.
Prescription medications are designed to offer relief from severe pain over a short period of time. In most cases, they should only be prescribed for a matter of weeks at most because they are so addictive and can cause permanent damage when taken over an extended period.
Unfortunately, the highly addictive nature of these pills and the fact that they can be sourced online means that more and more people are tempted to abuse them. Opiate drugs such as morphine and codeine work by blocking pain from the nerve endings, which results in a surge of dopamine – also known as the ‘feel good chemical’. Those who take these drugs will feel relaxed, warm and sleepy.
Opiate drugs can be addictive if misused but it is generally only when someone high profile suffers an overdose or dies due to these substances that people become aware of the problem.
Police in the US have launched an investigation into the death of fifty-seven-year-old Prince, and a source said, “We understand Prince suffered chronic pain after developing a hip problem. Naturally he took painkillers to ease his troubles but police are looking into if he was prescribed too many.”
Conrad Murray was convicted of the involuntary manslaughter of Michael Jackson in 2011 and was sentenced to four years in prison. However, the star’s doctor served just two years. It was deemed that Dr Murray was in a position of trust and that he breached standards of professional conduct.
When Michael Jackson died, there was a significant number of prescription medication pills found at his home including Percocet, the same drug believed to have been abused by Prince.
Elvis Presley was another superstar who regularly abused prescription medication. Although he died of a heart attack, toxicology reports found a number of drugs in his system, including large quantities of codeine, methaqualone, meperidine, diazepam, and morphine.
Actress Maggie Gyllenhaal, who was a guest on the David Letterman show in 2008, said that while being treated for a broken toe in hospital a nurse was “more than eager to push bundles of those morphine-patches-disguised-as-painkillers —Percocet— on her patients.”
Here in the UK, the NHS is keen to implement tighter controls on prescription medication, and NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) recently issued new guidelines for the safer use of controlled drugs. The guidelines included information about the safe storage and disposal of the drugs as well as recommendations for tighter controls in relation to the supply, administration and transfer of prescription medication.
Medical professionals were also urged to prescribe no more than a patient would require for a period of up to thirty days.
The biggest side effect of prescription medications such as morphine and codeine is the risk of addiction. Those who are prescribed these drugs should only take them as advised by a doctor. Misuse would constitute taking more of the drug than the recommended dose, or taking them more frequently. Giving prescription medications to another person is also classed as misuse and can also be very dangerous.
Those who abuse prescription medications could develop conditions such as morphine or codeine addiction, which can be devastating and can result in a number of negative consequences including mental and physical health problems, financial hardship and relationship breakdowns.
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