I had my wisdom teeth removed the week before my junior year of college. I recouped at my parent’s home, taking prescription painkillers as needed. When I was packing to return to school, I couldn’t find them. Turns out my father had flushed the pills down the toilet.
A former police officer with a tendency towards hyperbolics, he was afraid my roommates could take them (“They wouldn’t do that,” I said) or people could steal them (“Who?” I asked). If someone overdosed or got caught with my little white tablets, it would all link back to me. My future would be ruined.
I went to school in pill-free pain, shaking my head at his absurdity. I still think it unlikely that those scenarios would have happened, but my father had more knowledge than I did. It is estimated that in 2012, “2.1 million people in the United States suffering from substance use disorders related to prescription opioid pain relievers.”
In North Carolina that same year, the state had 97 painkiller prescriptions written per 100 people, and just last year, more than 1,000 people died from overdosing on painkillers. Wilmington, NC, known for its beaches, food, battleship, and movie locations is also making a name for itself as the city with the highest opioid use in the nation.
Those statistics matter to everyone: substance abuse affects more than just the abuser. However, these statistics should be especially important right now to women. While traditionally, men have been more likely to overdose than women, that trend is changing. From 1999 to 2010, more than 6,600 women died, an increase of 400%.
Studies show that reasons for the climb in women abusing opiates is because women are more likely to visit the doctor than men, have more chronic pain, and are more likely to be prescribed higher doses of pain management for longer durations.
When you are prescribed pain pills for a necessary reason, and they provide you with the ability to function in your crazy, busy life — and to do so while feeling euphoric — it’s easy to see how the addiction occurs. On mornings when my pain is acting up, I’d love to feel elated while changing and feeding my toddler.
The dangers of painkillers, especially when misused, are myriad. One of them is that the pills are a gateway to heroin (another problem with which Wilmington struggles). There isn’t one particular reason why NC and Wilmington in particular are struggling with opiate addictions, but steps are being taken. In fact, last week it was announced that the NC Medical Board is investigating 60 doctors and physician assistants who, within a 12-month period had two or more patients die from painkiller overdose.
Doctors are also being encouraged to suggest alternate forms of pain relief, like yoga or physical therapy, to patients before offering a prescription. The patient, especially women, need to speak to their doctors about their expectations for pain-levels and management. Also, if you or someone you know already struggles with a dependency, research the signs and begin to seek help.