Pain Medicine to Heroin: Overdosing America

Get off your pain medication.
vicodinYou may have noticed the increased rate of overdose from heroin and prescription pain medications. It is not a coincidence. Some patients quickly become addicted to pain medicine like Percocet, Vicodin, or other narcotics (see list below) and then when they are cut-off those they turn to another narcotic – heroine. Heroin is cheaper, no questions asked, and readily available to anyone who knows where to go. You don’t even have to go to the “seedy” side of town to get it.

It is cheaper than prescriptions and widely available, and yet not regulated, not pure. People are dying from this daily - but it starts with a prescription for pain medicine

It is cheaper than prescriptions and widely available, and yet not regulated, not pure. People are dying from this daily – but it starts with a prescription for pain medicine

It isn’t easy – getting off pain medication means you will have some pain, discomfort, and if you have been taking medication for a while it means going through some withdrawal. Withdrawal won’t kill you, but the pain medications can.

In the last year I have had four patients, and former patients, enter treatment centers to get off of pain medication.

Who is at Risk
There are clearly people who are more prone to addiction than others, but everyone can become addicted to narcotic painkillers. Everyone who takes the narcotics for an extended period of time become “use to” – or habituated, and if they stop taking them they will have withdrawal. People who use them will develop an increasing tolerance to the drugs, needing higher doses for relief of pain – or just to ameliorate the symptoms of withdrawal.




Pain Addiction is Universal
It doesn’t matter where you live, what color you are, how much money you have, or how smart you are. Addiction to narcotics is universal. Doctors become addicted to pain medicine, even those who know better.

  • He was a friendly anesthesiologists with three kids. He knew pain medicine as well as anyone. So when his wife found him in their bathroom with a needle stuck in his arm, dead – it was a shock to us all.
  • She was a surgeon – who two years previously had major surgery, but was caught writing prescriptions to herself.
  • He was a plastic surgeon, who was found incoherent by police and when they went to his surgery center found vials of used Demerol that he had been injecting himself with.

Other Risk Factors:

  • People who drink more than 2 glasses of alcohol per night (doesn’t matter if it is beer, whiskey, or wine) – it increases the risk factor of addiction to pain medicine. It does this because your liver is use to detoxifying the alcohol, and the same liver enzymes are used to break down the narcotics. These people tend to need more pain medicine.
  • People who smoke.
  • Women are more prone to addiction than men
  • Under 26 and over 66 are more prone to addiction
  • Anyone who takes a prescription pain-killer is at risk

What Can You Do?
Get off your narcotic medication as fast as you can. The sooner you get off it, the faster you will recover, the better you will feel. There is always pain coming off the pain medicine, but the over-the-counter medications can be used.

If you think you have an addiction problem – contact an addiction specialist.

What We Surgeons Do
As a surgeon we prescribe pain medications to patients. But many of us have a simple policy – you get one prescription. If you lose it, if you run out, if someone steals it – doesn’t matter. You have one prescription. If you need more then you need to be seen by a surgeon to determine if you have a surgical condition. If not, and you need pain medicine then you need to be sent to a pain specialist for treatment.

If you find one prescription doesn’t work for you and you want another – then you must bring the unused pills to our office for disposal, and we call the pharmacy directly and make an office note about giving you a new prescription.

Chronic Pain
Exercise works better for “fibromyalgia” than any pain medicine (better than lyrica, narcotics, or gabapentin).

See a physical therapist – get moving.

List of Narcotics –

  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin)
  • Oxycodone (OxyContin) -Percocet
  • Morphine
  • Fentanyl
  • Codeine
  • Propoxyphene (Darvon)
  • Hydromorphone (Dilaudid)
  • Meperidine (Demerol)

Dr. Terry Simpson About Dr. Terry Simpson
Dr. Terry Simpson received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Chicago where he spent several years in the Kovler Viral Oncology laboratories doing genetic engineering. He found he liked people more than petri dishes, and went to medical school. Dr. Simpson, a weight loss surgeon is an advocate of culinary medicine. The first surgeon to become certified in Culinary Medicine, he believes teaching people to improve their health through their food and in their kitchen. On the other side of the world, he has been a leading advocate of changing health care to make it more "relationship based," and his efforts awarded his team the Malcolm Baldrige award for healthcare in 2011 for the NUKA system of care in Alaska and in 2013 Dr Simpson won the National Indian Health Board Area Impact Award. A frequent contributor to media outlets discussing health related topics and advances in medicine, he is also a proud dad, husband, author, cook, and surgeon “in that order.” For media inquiries, please visit

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