The medical examiner’s toxicology report is back and what many suspected has been confirmed: The entertainer Prince died of an accidental overdose of the opioid fentanyl. Here at Las Vegas Recovery Center (LVRC), the medical team and staff were saddened by this news.
“It is incredibly sad, but it’s not surprising,” commented LVRC counselor Gail Papandrea, MS, LADC. “Prescription opioid overdoses have become a big problem in this country.”
Although it is always heartbreaking to lose a beloved icon, society can collectively learn and grow from the experience. If there is a silver lining to Prince’s untimely death, it is that further attention will be brought to the potential dangers of opioid misuse.
“I hope Prince’s death supports the increased awareness around the opioid epidemic”, says Corrine Cherek, Spiritual Counselor at LVRC. “It hurts my heart that we have yet another spokesperson from the grave.”
Indeed, the numbers aren’t pretty: 1.9 million—This is the number of Americans who are dependent on prescription opioids, according to the latest data provided in 2014. 28,000—This is the number of Americans who died of an opioid-related overdose in 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This number includes deaths related to heroin, oxycodone, and hydrocodone. But it’s not too late. We can prevent the premature deaths of other great talents by seeing to it that the public is informed about opioids’ high potential for misuse and abuse. Thus, in the spirit of education, here are several important facts everyone should know about this dangerous and potentially lethal narcotic:
Opioids are among the most prescribed drugs in the US
According to the CDC, opioids—which act as a pain reliever by turning off the brain’s pain receptors—are some of the most frequently prescribed drugs in America. This has fueled a nationwide opioid addiction epidemic, which has resulted in the federal government encouraging doctors to think carefully before writing a prescription for opioids. Prescription opioids include painkillers, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, and morphine. They also include fentanyl. Fentanyl is a synthetic pain relieving medication prescribed to patients with terminal cancer or other advanced illnesses. Fentanyl is reportedly 25 to 50 times stronger than heroin, according to the US Drug Enforcement Administration. When misused, it can be deadly. Fentanyl was what was found in Prince’s system at the time of his death.
Doctor-prescribed opioids and heroin belong to the same class of drug
While many believe prescribed painkillers and heroin to be two very different drugs, they are very similar. Painkillers, such as oxycodone, and the illicit drug heroin come from the same plant, the poppy plant, and affect the same areas of the brain. Both heroin and prescribed opioids cause a reduction in pain and a feeling of euphoria. They are both highly addictive substances and can cause users to become increasingly tolerant to their effects. Cravings are intense and withdrawal symptoms are painful.
Heroin addiction frequently starts with prescribed pain medication
Many currently suffering from heroin dependency began their slide into addiction with a doctor-prescribed opioid. The common tale is this: Someone is injured or undergoes surgery and a doctor prescribes a pain reliever. While the patient may start off using the drug as recommended, he or she develops a tolerance over time and needs increasingly larger doses in order to achieve the same desired affect. As they abuse the drug, taking larger-than-recommended doses, they develop a dependency. Because prescription painkillers are expensive, opioid abusers often turn to heroin as a cheaper and more readily available alternative. Despite common misconceptions, the only marked difference between prescribed opioids and heroin is that one is legal and the other is not.
The importance of seeking help
It is vital that those attempting to overcome an opioid dependency seek professional help first. Detoxing from such a powerful drug requires professional medical oversight, as painful withdrawal symptoms are common. Las Vegas Recovery Center provides safe and supportive drug detox at our treatment center in northwest Las Vegas. We are fully equipped to medically manage opioid withdrawal. To learn more, please call our 24-hour admissions line at (888) 219-1158.