In the article which we read for this week, the authors investigated the roles of glutamate and its receptors play in opioid addiction. When people hear the word “opioid”, it is thought as the illegal drugs, such as opium alkaloid, morphine, and semi-synthetic alkaloid derivative, heroin. But in the world of medicine, opioid plays an important role as pain killer, which is often prescribed to people who suffer from severe pains. Most of these pain pills are classified as the semi-synthetic alkaloid derivatives, the same classification as heroin. Oxycodone and hydrocodone are two of these pain killers that are often prescribed by doctors.
Although opioid drugs do a great job relieving pain, just like heroin, they are also addictive and may be very hard to quit. And people who depend on these drugs often need to go through a long and painful withdrawal. Therefore, the prescriptions and the usage of the drug by doctors have become very important. On Wednesday, Annika talked to us about the process of prescribing opioids and the “regulations” on it. But just regulations don’t seem to be enough. In fact, prescription drug abuse has already become a severe problem in the United States. I have always enjoyed National Geographic Channel’s documentary series, one of my favorites is the show called “Drugs, Inc.” And one of its episode deals with the problems of prescription drug abuse. This film interviewed users, doctors, dealers, and the law enforcements, and went into details about this industry from different perspectives. According to this documentary, nearly 1.9 million Americans are addicted to prescription pain pills, ten thousand newborns were born with addiction each year, and dealers and rouge doctors make millions off this black market trade.
Since the regulations have already failed us, another strategy needs to be played. There are many researches being conducted on opioid receptor antagonists and how they may help avoiding the addictive characteristics of these drugs. And some of them have shown promising results. But in my opinion, getting rid of the addictive characteristics of these drugs only helps with dependence physically. Unfortunately, that is not the only part of addiction. In psychology, we learned about the concept of classical conditioning, which is basically a form of learning in which the conditioned stimulus comes to signal the occurrence of the unconditioned stimulus. In the case of pain pills, by taking the pills and removing the pain of our body, we are essentially conditioning ourselves to associate the pills with the removal of our pain (negative reinforcement). This applies to not only the opioids but all kinds of pain killers (NSAIDS, Acetometaphin, Aspirin), which means they may all be addicting if used incorrectly.
After all, pain is very subjective, difficult to measure and everybody experiences it differently. All in all, I appreciate/respect what the researchers are doing with the opioids, and I really hope it could be completed. But the real problem I see here is the prescription and usage of the pain pills by the doctors as well as the patients.
To watch “Drugs, Inc.- Pill Nation” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AG3qM1NXRXA&feature=related