Are You an Accidental Addict?

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Are You an Accidental Addict?
When it comes to narcotic painkillers, close to 50 percent of abusers are women—which suggests there’s something about these drugs that draws them in. One explanation, Traci C. Green, PhD., a drug abuse epidemiologist at Brown University School of Medicine explains, is that women are more likely than men to seek help for their pain—and to leave the doctor’s office with a prescription. Also, conditions associated with chronic pain affect women in greater numbers. Hormones may play a role as well: Higher levels of estrogen make women more susceptible to feeling a high from opioids, so the temptation to use them may be stronger.

No one intends to end up an addict—and most of us won’t. Any expert will tell you that the vast majority of people who take Rx painkillers don’t abuse them. Still, to avoid becoming a statistic, it pays to learn the facts about these powerful drugs. Here’s what you need to know before asking for—or filling—a prescription.

Consider OTCs 
Just because your doctor is willing to give you painkillers doesn’t mean you have to take them. Keep in mind that, as the FDA noted when it recently announced a new plan to fight the epidemic of prescription drug abuse, some types of pain medicine are “extensively misprescribed.” 

Narcotics are recommended for moderate to severe pain; if your pain is mild to moderate, you can probably manage it with nonnarcotic over-the-counter (OTC) choices like ibuprofen, a topical analgesic cream (such as Aspercreme), or a lidocaine patch that’s applied at the site of your pain, says Jerry Lerner, M.D., chief of pain medicine at Sierra Tucson, a treatment center in Tucson, AZ. “If you need something stronger, you can always switch to prescription meds,” he adds, “and then go back to the OTCs once your pain lessens.”

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