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    Painkillers, Narcotic Misuse, and Addiction

    What Is Narcotic Misuse?

    One of the most frequent reasons people go to the doctor is for pain relief. There are a number of different drugs that can ease pain.

    Opioids -- also called opiates or narcotics -- are pain relievers made from opium, which comes from the poppy plant. Morphine and codeine are the two natural products of opium. Synthetic modifications or imitations of morphine produce the other opioids:

    Fentanyl (Duragesic)                  

    Heroin (street drug)

    Hydrocodone with acetaminophen (Lorcet, Lortab, Vicodin)

    Hydrocodone (Zohydro ER, Hysingla ER) 

    Hydromorphone (Dilaudid)


    Oxycodone (OxyContin)

    Oxycodone with acetaminophen (Percocet)

    Oxycodone with aspirin (Percodan)


    When people with no history of drug addiction appropriately use narcotics at prescribed doses to control pain, they are relatively unlikely to become addicted to the drugs. However, opioids provide an intoxicating high when injected or taken orally in high doses. Opioids are also powerful anxiety relievers. Additionally, in people with no history of addiction who take opiates for chronic pain, studies have not found clear-cut predictors of who is more or less likely to eventually abuse their pain killers. For these reasons, narcotic abuse is one of the most common forms of drug abuse in the U.S.

    Terms like opioid abuse, drug abuse, drug dependence, and drug addiction are often used interchangeably. However, modern diagnostic classification systems technically no longer use the terms "abuse" or "dependence" but instead refer to "substance use disorders" with accompanying levels of mild, moderate or severe intensity. 

    Drug misuse occurs when someone uses a medicine beyond a doctor's prescription, usually with the intention to get high, or relieve anxiety or distress. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), opiate use disorder involves:

    • strong desire to use opioids
    • inability to control or reduce use
    • trouble meeting social or work obligations
    • having legal problems due to drug use
    • spending large amounts of time to obtain opiates
    • development of tolerance (meaning the need to use larger amounts over time)
    • having withdrawal symptoms after stopping or reducing use (such as depressed mood, stomach upset, insomnia, and muscle aches)

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