Pain Medications And Drug Addiction: How Are They Related?

In recent years, the U.S. has seen a significant increase in the abuse of certain forms of narcotics, mostly opioids. Opioids come in illicit forms, like street drugs, and synthetic opioids, such as the pain medications manufactured by pharmaceutical companies and prescribed by doctors. Authentic pain medications are also being distributed illegally.

With the increased potency and availability of these painkillers, an underground market has emerged, allowing people to buy illegally prescribed drugs, and become addicted to the side effects they produce. More people are also becoming addicted to prescribed pain medications leading them, eventually, to seek drug recovery.


Certain societies have utilized medicines derived from the opium poppy. In 1804, the German pharmacist named Friedrich Sertürner first synthesized the analgesic compound morphine from opium, a synthetic version of which is still used in hospitals and emergency rooms throughout the world.

While Western society had prior exposure to opioid painkillers for centuries, it was the explosive use of one prescription drug, in particular, Oxycontin, that created the greatest impact on addiction in this country.

Oxycodone, a semi-synthetic opioid, and the active ingredient in the brand-name drug Oxycontin were first created in 1917. Since 1976, oxycodone had been combined with paracetamol, also known as acetaminophen or Tylenol, to make the prescription drug Percocet. 

But it wasn’t until 1996, when a major pharmaceutical company began manufacturing the drug Oxycontin that the demand, both legal and illegal, for prescription painkillers expanded dramatically in the United States.

Unlike other prescription pain medications like Vicodin or Percocet, which had acetaminophen in them and a much smaller amount of opioid agent per dose, Oxycontin was an extended-release version of the drug oxycodone with anywhere from eight to 16 times the amount of the drug per pill than in the standard Percocet.


The concentrated dose of oxycodone in each pill made Oxycontin highly addictive as compared to painkillers prescribed in the past. In addition, the drug was widely prescribed and readily available, which made it easier to abuse and become addicted to. 

Shrewd drug users quickly realized they could crush Oxycontin and either snort it, ingest it orally, or intravenously inject the drug to intensify its effects. 

Whereas the street drug heroin had been historically relegated to major urban areas, rural and suburban regions of the country, with no heroin traffic, were now exposed to highly potent opioid derivatives. 

Because of Oxycontin’s potent nature, individuals who had been prescribed the drug for legitimate pain management needs soon found themselves procuring the drugs illicitly, either by receiving prescriptions from multiple doctors (“doctor shopping”) or by buying them from others selling their prescriptions.

In 2010, the major pharmaceutical company started producing extended-release oxycodone with tamper-resistant features to prevent abuse of the medication. 

The indirect consequence of both the introduction of Oxycontin and it’s subsequent reformulation was an influx of heroin, and the increased use of other prescription opioid painkillers, like Roxicodone and Dilaudid. 

These found their way into areas of the United States where they had previously not been a concern, as newly created opiate use abusers looked for new avenues to feed their narcotic addictions.


Today, there is a virtual epidemic of both heroin and prescription painkiller abuse throughout the country. Some of these newer heroin users were people from walks of life that would never have encountered illegal narcotics before. Some of them were given pain medication for legitimate reasons and became inadvertently addicted. 

Today, heroin can be cut with fentanyl, carfentanil, or other drugs and ingredients, making them extraordinarily potent and deadly. Heroin is usually cheaper to buy than prescription drugs. It is less expensive for illicit dealers to make when cutting with other dangerous ingredients. This combination can result in fatal outcomes.


If you or someone you know is struggling with the use of opioids or prescription painkillers, medical attention and supervision are critical to becoming free from addiction. 

Medical detoxification is the first step in substance abuse treatment. Clients are monitored and attended to by a team of supportive medical staff who tends to both the physical and psychological symptoms of withdrawal. 

Painkillers and opioids are incredibly challenging to quit using. Detoxing at home is never a smart way to start recovering from pain medication addiction.  We’re here to help. Reach out to us, and we will guide you step by step. Maryland House Detox is an accredited, professionally staffed detox center. We are here. Give us a call.

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