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Prescription painkillers are necessary for people in unbearable pain after an injury or a major medical procedure, but they have a deadly dark side that has more people seeking drug detox programs by the day. Opioid painkillers are extremely easy to become addicted to and introduce people to a life-destroying habit. Every American needs to know the risks these drugs carry and how to avoid getting hooked.

Prescription drugs are more prevalent now than ever. Enough pills were prescribed in 2010 to keep every adult in the country fully medicated 24 hours a day for an entire month. The number of prescriptions for opioid painkillers has nearly tripled from 70 million in 1991 to 210 million in 2011. Unless Americans happened to experience three times more pain that year than they did twenty years earlier, something is wrong with the frequency of these prescriptions. And the statistics for deaths by overdose back that up, too: deaths from prescription drug overdoses more than quadrupled from 4,030 in 1999 to 16,651 in 2010.

Although these drugs have medical legitimacy, it’s essential to remember that they’re still opioids. The euphoric, painless sensation they cause is very easy to get addicted to. The brain will shut down the natural production of pleasure-causing chemicals in response to the unnaturally large amounts the drug causes the brain to release, forcing a person to seek more of the drug. When a person runs out of legally obtained pills, they’ll likely try to buy them through less-than-legitimate means, which can run up to $100 per pill. Many then switch to the much cheaper and much more potent heroin. People in this situation often never would have willingly tried heroin and never thought they’d end up struggling with addiction, especially since the pill that got them hooked wasn’t an illicit substance, but medication recommended by their doctor. With this kind of risk present for literally anyone prescribed an opioid painkiller, education and preparation are key!

So, how can you avoid having you or a loved one fall into addiction if you need a painkiller because of a medical condition? The best bet is to communicate your concerns with your doctor. See if there are any non-addictive, non-opioid methods of dealing with pain. If not, make sure you and your doctor agree on a limited amount of refills and a safe schedule for taking the pills. Consider having a trusted family member make sure that the drugs are only taken at the correct times in the correct dosages. These precautions are especially important since addiction usually begins when people can get their prescription refilled many more times than necessary and start taking the pills for the euphoric high rather than pain relief. If you see anyone starting to abuse painkillers in this way, act immediately and look for an inpatient drug rehab center. Don’t wait for their addiction to get worse.

A less direct action, but no less important, is to be an advocate in your community for safe, effective opioid control. By raising awareness, you’ll force doctors and pharmacists filling prescriptions to be more accountable for their actions, and gain public support for more treatment options for prescription opioid addicts.