Since 1999, the number of deaths from overdoses of prescription painkillers has more than quadrupled,…
If You Share Prescriptions, You Might Be a Well-Meaning Enabler
Susan’s doctor prescribed her the opioid-based pain medication hydrocodone to help manage her fibromyalgia flare-ups. She took the medication as needed and found relief each time.
So when Susan’s friend Jess, who had recently had back surgery, complained of back pain that wouldn’t go away with ibuprofen or acetaminophen, Susan offered her one of her pain pills.
“Oh, I couldn’t take one from you.”
“It’s not a bother,” Susan insisted, rising from her chair and walking into the kitchen. “I have plenty for now and I just take them when it gets bad. Trust me, it’ll help.”
Jess accepted the pill and Susan thought nothing more of it.
The next week, Jess was back in Susan’s living room.
“I tell you what, my back hurts so bad that I can’t even sleep.”
“Have you been to the doctor yet?” Susan asked.
“Oh, it will go away soon enough. But that medicine you gave me worked so well. Do you think I could trouble you for one more? I know this pain will go away with rest, but it’s killing me so bad I can’t even sleep.”
Susan nodded and went into the kitchen. Clutching at her back, Jess followed.
“Don’t you want to sit?” Susan asked.
“No, no. I need to stretch a bit.”
Jess watched Susan retrieve the pill bottle from her cupboard and shake out a single pill. Jess washed it down with water, and the two friends returned to the living room to continue their chat.
A few days later, Susan needed the medication for a fibromyalgia attack, but she couldn’t locate the pain pill bottle in her cupboard. She rummaged all around and finally found it. There were only three pills left.
“I could have sworn I had more than this. Oh well, I’ll call Dr. Blake in the morning.”
About a week after Susan picked up the prescription refill, Jess visited again.
“My back hurts so much.”
“You should really just go back to the doctor. That surgeon didn’t do right by you.”
“You’re right. Can you spare me another one of your pills?”
“You might as well get your own prescription. I’ll give you another only if you promise to go to the doctor.”
“I promise to go to the doctor.”
After that, Susan didn’t hear from Jess for a while. One night, Susan was in the throes of another fibromyalgia flare-up and went to the medicine cabinet. Once again, she couldn’t locate the bottle. She looked throughout the medicine cupboard, in the bathroom, in her purse and even in less logical places. It had simply disappeared.
She phoned her doctor to request another refill.
“Is there anyone else who has access to your medicine cabinet?” Dr. Blake asked.
“Well, only my husband,” Susan replied. “But he has no business in there anyway. All of his meds are in his dresser drawer.”
“I’m afraid there’s another possibility,” Dr. Blake explained. “Hydrocodone is a popular drug on the black market. Is there any chance someone may have broken into your house?”
“No,” Susan said, “but I think I know whom I should call next.”
Addicts Can Be Hard to Spot
Despite more awareness than ever before about the dangers of opioid addiction, many people offer their prescription pain medications to friends and family in need. Like Susan, they have a legitimate prescription for a powerful drug. And like Susan, they hate to see a good friend suffer.
In the story above, Susan had no idea that Jess was already struggling with a pain pill addiction. Many believe that an addict is easy to spot in a crowd, when in fact an addict can become adept at hiding.
Jess’s pangs of pain were real enough; an addict in withdrawal desperately craves another dose of the drug. These cravings are typically spurred by physical symptoms that the drug treats, such as pain or gastrointestinal troubles. To a friend or family member, withholding medication from a loved one in agony is unthinkable. Of course, they hand over the pill.
Doing so is a well-intended gesture, but in fact it enables the addict to continue using and to continue feeling miserable day in and day out. Satisfying an addiction can slowly become an individual’s main goal in life, and everything else — relationships, hobbies, jobs — suffer for it. The high that the drug of choice gives an addict is only temporary. As a result, addicts live most of their lives languishing in the “crash” phase. It is no way to live a life.
In fact, when it comes to opioid addiction, prescription medications are often the reason people develop the dependency in the first place. After a major surgery like in Jess’s case, doctors will prescribe opioids for pain management. And not everyone will become addicted, but screening for addiction isn’t always easy. When the doctor denies any additional refills, their now-addicted patient can either try to find the pills another way, or can seek drug addiction treatment.
Unfortunately, stigma still surrounds addiction. Although doctors are in an excellent position to give advice and referrals, and in some cases to even prescribe tapering drugs, many people feel ashamed to seek help from a drug rehab treatment center. Instead, they choose to seek the pills.
That’s where you, as a friend or family member, come in. If you share pills, even if it is a single pill in a single instance, you run the risk of enabling your loved one to prolong a damaging addiction.
If you don’t give in to the word “please,” an addict might offer you cash. And if you don’t give in to cash, an addict might steal the pills instead, as Jess did.
It’s true that you cannot force an addict to recover if they don’t want to. But you do have a choice about whether you actively contribute to the addiction. The No. 1 way to avoid being an enabler, no matter how well-intentioned, is to not share prescription drugs.