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The Hidden Cost Of Painkillers

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Many doctors don't realize just how addictive painkillers can be.

A  study by the National Safety Council found many doctors don't realize painkillers can be severely addictive and may have long lasting side effects.

The council also found that 70 percent of Americans who take painkillers don't believe that sharing them with others is a felony. 

But if you’ve lived in Las Vegas for any length of time, you might already know how problematic painkillers can be. We have one of the highest levels of painkiller addictions in the country. Nevada has the third highest rate of deaths nationwide due to painkiller overdose. 

Dr. Donald Teater, medical advisor for the National Safety Council, told KNPR’s State of Nevada that opioids, which include natural derivatives from poppies like morphine, codeine and heroin, and synthetic versions like hydrocodone and oxycodone, have a role in treating pain. How they are currently being used is not helpful, though.

“We’re trying to teach doctors that they should be used to address the emotional distress that can come with pain and for some people that can be severe,” Dr. Teater said. But he said that using it for back pain or a sprained ankle not only doesn’t help the patient’s recovery but actually delays it.

He said opioids work on a person’s central nervous system and cause powerful long lasting effects. Opioids can cause physical and chemical changes to a person’s brain.

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“These people have serious difficulties coming off these medications,” Teater said.

Withdrawal can be very difficult physically and can last weeks for some people, Teater said.

Dr. Mel Pohl is the medical director of Las Vegas Recovery Center and the author of an upcoming book on painkillers called “The Pain Antidote.”

He said the biggest problem is we don’t really have another solution for some people with chronic pain.

“We don’t have a long-term solution for chronic pain and that’s really what we’re up against,” Dr. Pohl said. “I give physicians credit. They’re doing the very best they can for a terrible problem, which is chronic pain, with the only thing they have, which is a prescription pad.”

Dr. Teater said the most of his addiction patients started taking painkillers when they were given a prescription by a doctor or dentist.

“It is our responsibility as medical professionals to say to patients ‘this is not a good plan,’” Dr. Pohl said. 

(Editor's Note: This segment was originally broadcast in March 2015)

Copyright 2015 KNPR-FM. To see more, visit http://www.knpr.org/.
Guests

Donald Teater, M.D., medical advisor, National Safety Council; Mel Pohl, M.D., medical director, Las Vegas Recovery Center

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