FINDING HOPE: "Drug dependence" versus "drug addiction"; Do you know the difference?

Posted at 2:01 PM, Sep 17, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-18 19:54:51-04

Opioids are prescribed by doctors daily to treat all kinds of pain, but the prescription painkillers can be deadly when abused.

"They're messy drugs, but they have their place," St. Luke's pain management physician Dr. Michael Severson said. He regularly uses opioids to treat his patients' arthritis, back and neck pain and pain from trauma.

According to the CDC, from 1999 to 2016 more than 200,000 Americans died from overdosing on prescription opioids.

It's important to note, though, not all opioid users are opioid addicts. Many opioid users follow doctors' orders without issues and it's possible to be opioid-dependent without being addicted.

"It's a common misconception that if you're taking opioid medication, that you're an addict," Dr. Severson said. He says physical dependence on a drug simply means you're body responds with withdrawal symptoms when the medication is stopped, while addiction is more behavioral.

"I often tell the patients that if they're chewing it, snorting it, trying to get high, overusing it, those kinds of things are signs of addiction," Dr. Severson said.

According to the CDC, one in four patients taking opioids long-term will develop an addiction.

Dr. Severson says while opioids can be helpful for certain patients in certain situations, the more the opioids are used, the higher a person's tolerance will get. That's when patients need to start paying close attention to their actual pain level.

His main pointer, "You take them only as long as you need them."

So if you're prescribed a new medication don't be afraid to ask questions: Is this drug an opioid? Are there non-opioid medications available that you could try first? And remember: you don't need to take all the pills prescribed. If you're sent home with ten days worth of pills and pain subsides after six, talk with your doctor and then find a safe prescription disposal method to prevent the drugs from getting into the wrong hands.