The Pain Pill Epidemic

MastHead Outline
February 2, 2016

The Center for Disease Control has stated that pain pill addiction is now an epidemic in the United States. Should this epidemic continue on its current course, by 2020 more deaths in the U.S. will be caused from substance abuse than any other disease. Even now, more Americans die every year from drug overdoses than they do in motor vehicle crashes. The majority of those overdoses involve prescription medications.

The United States makes up less than five percent of the world’s population but consumes 80 percent of the global opioid supply and approximately 99 percent of all hydrocodone — the most commonly prescribed opioid in the world.

In 2012, health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for opioid pain medications – enough for every American adult to have a bottle of pills. Opioids are a class of prescription pain medications that include hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine, and methadone. Heroin belongs to the same class of drugs, and four in five heroin users started out by misusing prescription opioid pain medications.

No matter who you are … Addiction is a Disease

Pain pill addiction affects people of all ethnicities, ages, genders, geographic regions, and socioeconomic levels. They need to know that help is available.

There is a science behind what causes addiction in one person while another may not experience the same result. Dopamine tone at the nucleus accumbens is the reason we do anything twice. Individuals with low dopamine tone at the nucleus accumbens find that certain chemicals (addictive drugs) and/or behaviors (gambling/sex) increase dopamine concentrations to normal levels. The drive to maintain dopamine levels is mediated by multiple chemical substances in the brain interconnecting the frontal lobes, midbrain and hindbrain. The midbrain dictates certain behaviors obscuring the logical thought processes from the frontal lobes. People who are addicted cannot control their need for drugs and alcohol despite negative health, social, or legal consequences.

Recovery is possible

Often, people who experience a substance use disorder feel isolated and alone. Every year, millions of Americans experience these conditions. Environments and relationships must be created that promote acceptance. Substance use disorders can be treated, just like any other health problems. Those struggling with addictions who embrace recovery achieve improved mental and physical health.

Are You Addicted?

There are signs of addiction to pain pills that your prescribing physician will, hopefully, share with you. If not, these are some indicators to be aware of:

  • Taking more pills than prescribed
  • Using the pills in ways that are not intended (chewing the medication, for example)
  • Running out of medication and borrowing from friends, family, and acquaintances until you can fill your next prescription.
  • The medication causes impairment to a degree that you can’t function
  • Taking the medication to treat bad moods, anxiety, or to go to sleep
  • A great deal of time is spent worrying about running out of medication or about the next dose

A “yes” answer to any of these is cause for concern, while not necessarily an indicator of addiction. Click here to take the quiz.

There is help

If you are concerned about the possibility of addiction to pain pills, help is available now. Please visit our locations page to find an AppleGate Recovery near you. The physicians, counselors, and staff at AppleGate Recovery understand that addiction is a disease and treat all their patients with respect and compassion as they are going through their recovery. For more information, please click here to find a clinic near you


2014 National Health Survey on Drug Use and Health