By Mike McMahan, LPC
Kudos to actress Jamie Lee Curtis for opening up about her years long struggle with painkillers. The actress, who most recently killed it (literally) on Scream Queens, wrote in an essay on Huffington Post that she has “been in recovery from opiate addiction for 17 years.” It’s not easy to speak about these matters when you are in the public eye, as it’s guaranteed to create a lot of (perhaps unwanted) media coverage.
However, in this case, it seems the actress wanted the publicity in order to bring light to the topic of painkillers. Prince’s recent and shocking death has generated many leaks and rumors, as well as general oddness (Sinead O’Connor alleged Arsenio Hall was his drug supplier—sounds more like a mashup of “Where Are They Now?” and VH1’s Celebrity Rehab!). But, if the rumors and allegations are true, it seems that Prince may have been struggling with Percocet after being prescribed the powerful narcotic for hip pain.
While there is a stigma regarding use of so-called “street drugs” (cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, etc), this stigma, regrettably, is not attached to prescription drugs, which are equally dangerous. One has to look no further than radio host Rush Limbaugh, who famously railed against drug addicts, calling for extremely harsh measures as punishment. Ironically, he became addicted to drugs himself—OxyContin. My point here is not to rail against Limbaugh (I'll admit, it's tempting), but to, instead, demonstrate the mindset that “because these were prescribed by a doctor, they’re safe.” I seriously doubt Rush felt like he was using "drugs" in the same sense that a heroin addict might. This idea that they're "safer" may be true initially, but unfortunately, many patients find that they need more and more of the meds to control their symptoms. This can lead to the use of “street drugs” such as heroin, which work in very similar ways to painkillers. In fact, some addiction experts even call painkillers such has Percocet “synthetic heroin.”
From 2001 to 2014 there was a 2.8-fold rise in total number of deaths from prescription drugs. I find that statistic very alarming. If you are in a situation where you are struggling with drug use (prescription or otherwise), please seek help from an addiction specialist or talk to a mental health professional.
Mike McMahan, LPC is a psychotherapist based in San Antonio, Tx.
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