Addictive pharmaceuticals are Australia’s fastest growing drug problem

In a new report from the Alcohol and Drug Foundation it has been revealed that:

More Australians are dying from pharmaceutical overdoses than all illegal drugs combined.

The number of people dying after using the most common form of opioid painkiller, codeine, has doubled in the past decade.

Most overdoses are accidental, and often the result of misuse such as mixing alcohol with medications or mixing medications.

Pharmaceutical overdoses are overtaking our national road toll.

I have often quoted the figures that 80% of drug-related deaths in our society are due to cigarette smoke; 17% from alcohol and 3% from illegal drugs. With this new report from the Alcohol and Drug Foundation, these statistics I quote are clearly wrong. Firstly, although there is a very strong place for the use of prescription opioids and sedatives such as diazepam in the management of acute conditions as many people experience post-surgical pain and some people experience intense pain after dental procedures, painkillers are appropriate for the short term in this setting.

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Another major issue in society is acute anxiety or some severe life trauma such as the death of a loved one, an intense marital or relationship issue, the loss of employment or moving away from an area where you have your friends, family and social support. 30% of the adult population suffer a degree of insomnia and poor sleep can be very detrimental to many other aspects of health. Any of these situations may lead to acute anxiety, depression and a general feeling of stress and a short-term course of sedatives in this situation may be appropriate.

The problem arises when either the pain or anxiety becomes chronic and prescription painkillers and sedatives are seen as part of the solution but then they become a central part of the problem. Unfortunately, with the abuse either purposefully or accidental of either prescription painkillers and/or sedatives, there may be serious consequences. A person’s life can be destroyed by chronic pain or chronic anxiety but unfortunately taking pharmaceutical medications on a long-term basis for any of these problems is certainly not the answer.

The most important advice I can give in this situation is to

  1. Only take pharmaceutical medications as prescribed and suggested by your doctor and only for a short period of time.
  2. Never mix one pharmaceutical preparation with another unless specifically instructed to do so by your doctor and never mix any of these medications with alcohol.
  3. Do not take pharmaceutical preparations given to you by a person who is not a health professional. Often a friend or relative has had relief for a specific condition and will then let you have one of their prescription medications.

Once your pain or anxiety has become chronic then you should always explore alternative techniques. There are many behavioural therapies that are very effective for both situations including cognitive behavioural therapy with a psychiatrist or psychologist, a variety of meditation techniques and there are even some newer techniques of virtual reality that have been shown to be effective in this situation.

Many physical therapies are also effective for relieving pain such as remedial massage, physiotherapy, osteopathy and chiropractic techniques. I have also found two very effective therapies in the form of Physiokey and PainMaster. Physiokey is a form of neuro-electromagnetic stimulation which is gaining increasing prominence in the world of pain management. PainMaster is a simple device with 2 pads connected by a wire delivering micro current therapy into the area pain.

Also, I believe in the near future we will see increasing use for medical cannabis as a form of effective pain relief which will, in my opinion, be much safer then chronic pharmaceutical drugs.

With the number of people being affected by prescription painkillers and sedatives now reaching epidemic proportions, we must think better and smarter as to how we can manage the significant problems of chronic pain and chronic anxiety.