Prescription drug abuse is a complicated problem that ruins lives and careers [Letter]

We were saddened to read about Baltimore County Police Officer Joseph Stanley Harden's arrest on robbery and drug possession charges ("Off-duty officer tries to break into home in search of drugs, police say," Aug. 1).

The veteran officer reportedly told investigators he became addicted to Oxycodone after a work-related injury. While there is a general awareness of prescription drug abuse in our society, most people do not understand the complicated problem of chronic pain syndrome that can lead to prescription drug dependence or addiction. Oxycodone and other opiate medications are not indicated for chronic pain, and there is evidence that they actually worsen pain through a condition called opioid-induced hyperalgesia.

While there are attempts being made to stem the growing problem of prescription drug addiction, many are shortsighted. For example, late last month the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a new form of the pain reliever OxyContin. The new drug combines a form of the opioid oxycodone with naloxone, a medication used to block the effects of opioids that are injected.

The problem is that medications with naloxone, like Suboxone, are already available. The inclusion of naloxone has not prevented the drug from being abused or sold illegally, and there will be nothing different with this new drug. Those dependent on such drugs are creative enough to figure out how to use them to keep the addiction active. Abuse-proof is a myth.

The development of yet another pain reliever also assumes that long-standing, legally prescribed opioid use is the answer for the treatment of chronic pain, whether from injuries, surgeries or painful medical conditions.

Officer Harden's arrest and suspension from duty is an unfortunate example of the devastation that can follow the single mode of treating pain — "the pain pill." We are not fighting a war on drugs; we are treating an epidemic of opiate abuse spurred on by a desire to treat the symptoms rather than the causes of pain.

For those who develop a dependence on prescription medication, receiving proper treatment means addressing the addiction as well as the underlying chronic pain, which is a complex physical, emotional, mental and spiritual syndrome.

Strong medical and clinical care must be combined with comprehensive pain and addiction education, cognitive behavioral therapy, pain counseling groups and holistic physical therapies. Fortunately, there are programs available today that offer this integrated approach.

Though we are all responsible for our actions and decisions, prescription pain medications can interfere with normal function, and proper treatment can alleviate this path of self-destruction.

Bernadette Solounias and Carol Bowman, Havre de Grace

The writers are, respectively, senior vice president for treatment and director of the pain recovery program at Father Martin's Ashley Inc., a private alcoholism and drug treatment center.

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