Abuse of pain killer drugs leads to millions of deaths annually

It may shock many of us to know that over five million people die annually because of abuse of pain relief medication.

These deaths do not occur because these drugs are toxic or harmful to them. They occur due to carelessness, self-medication and overindulgence on the part of the users.
According to the World Health Organisation, pain relief medications such as panadol, paracetamol, ibruprofen and aspirin are some of the most abused substances in the world.
Experts say this is so because they are sold-over-the-counter without prescription, hence they are almost available in every cabinet at homes and offices. When used moderately, they are safe, for all.
However, the danger in easy access and possession of OTC pain relief medication is when many turn such drugs to sweets or candies that make a raging headache disappear.
Doctors warn that an abuse of painkillers can harm your liver, kidneys and other gastro-intestinal organs.
A Senior Consultant Nephrology at the Transplant Institutes, Apollo Hospitals, India, Prof. Devendra Agarwal, says that the liver is especially sensitive to some chemical substances in NSAIDS, a generic name for pain medications such as ibruprofen and analgesics like diclofenac.
Agarwal identifies abuse of painkillers such as aspirin as one of the highest causes of kidney failure, hypertension, diabetes and liver problems.
“Painkillers should only be used when they are required. For example, when there is a case of surgery, fractures where they are recommended to kill the pains.   For normal pains like headache, leg pain, among others, paracetamol should be enough to take care of the problems. There is no need taking stronger painkillers.
“You should only use painkillers to treat pain once or twice at a time. If it does not subside, go and see a doctor. It may mean that the pain is a symptom of something else. The kidney and the liver process the liquid and hard waste from all the drugs we take in and they are sensitive to these chemicals. You can imagine the damage that occurs to the kidneys when you take painkillers anytime you are in pain.”
Also, Consultant Family Physician, Dr. Gbenga Agbaje, notes that because painkillers give temporary relief. He adds that those who use painkillers regularly or those with chronic pain tend to become dependent or addicted to them.
Agbaje says it’s not cocaine or heroin that people abuse. According to him, thousands of Nigerians are in the grip of a deadly drug addiction — to everyday painkillers also known as analgesic.
Though these drugs give short relief, he warns that overdependence on them may create greater health challenge than users can handle.
He states that taking any painkiller for a long period will most likely lead to the development of a tolerance and physical dependence upon the drug.
But, how do you know you have reached the point of addiction? General practitioner, Dr. Lanre Salami, says someone is said to be addicted to painkillers when they become the only ‘treatment’ for the chronic or slight pain the person feels in any part of his body.
He states that many pain relief drugs contain nicotine, caffeine and Ibruprofen, which are addictive substances because of the relief they give users.
Salami adds, “It’s a health issue, as well as a mental and physical issue, and this addiction can have serious consequences, depending on how long you have been using them, even to cure pain or aches.”
Apart from addiction, experts warn that there are three main health concerns when using painkillers to treat pain over a long period. One is that the pain you are trying to repress or cure may become worse.
The Director, Pain Management and Research Institute, New York, Prof. Michael Nicholas, adds that painkillers are psychotropic drugs and their prolonged use could cause kidney and liver problems in children and adults.
“Years ago, parents often gave their children baby aspirin for fevers and illness. Now that doctors know more about Reye’s syndrome — a rare but serious condition that affects the brain, kidneys, and liver — aspirin is a no-no for children and teens during times of illness.
“Even adults must be more careful because they are more prone to the side effects. Some OTC pain relievers may interact with some high blood pressure medications or they can increase blood pressure in people not previously diagnosed with this condition as they grow older.”
Nicholas notes that these painkillers are only useful for treating short-term pain, and never intended to treat long-term pain.
“None of these drugs will fix the problem. All they do is cover it and that is when people get into trouble. They increase the dose themselves. You can actually end up feeling more pain with the drugs you are taking because you are more sensitised. And as the drugs wear off, so people take more and then they have more side effects.”
If you want to cure this addiction, doctors say it is possible, and all you to need do is understand the cause, how to prevent it or how to seek treatment.
Nicholas notes that it is important to correct the root cause of pain, while managing it may require the help of a doctor or a pain specialist and other health professionals. Therefore, visit the hospital.
But not to worry, there are some natural remedies and quite simple lifestyle changes that could stop the pain and get one off painkillers. One of them is physical exercise. A health and fitness expert, Valerie Johnston, says the brain releases chemicals known as endorphins during exercise, which block pain signals and serve as mood boosters.
Johnston adds, “Any form of physical exercise also works on other levels to reduce pain. By strengthening your muscles, increasing your mobility, improving your range of motion, increasing your endurance, and improving your cardio health, your body’s resistance to pain will increase naturally.”


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