Prescriptions influence chronic drug use, according to health study

(Photo: WKRN)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – A new health study finds the first prescription that patients get for opioid painkillers has a large influence on their risk of long-term use. Opioids provide relief for people in chronic pain, but they’re also the leading killer in the current epidemic.

Ron Stephens says It all started with shoulder pain, a doctor visit and a prescription for pain killers.

“When I was injured, I became dependent on the medication, until it became a problem,” said Stephens, who is a recovering addict.

Pills meant to last as a month-long supply disappeared within two weeks.

“In the morning and the first thing I needed to do was to take a pill,” said Stephens.

Research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now quantifies the length of time it takes to become dependent. The study shows that patients using opioids long term can get hooked if they are prescribed pills for more than five days. A 30-day supply of drugs, refills or a second prescription also determine whether people are able to stop or continue taking the drugs.

Stephens adds, “Eventually the longer you take a medication, you’re going to be addicted.”

The executive director of Metro Drug Coalition says the study resonates with this community, where there is a problem.

“The biggest takeaway is how much more quickly the study is showing that dependency happens, versus what we had thought previously,” said Karen Pershing.

The best advice Pershing has if you get hurt, “If you do have an injury or an accident, and you are prescribed these medications, you want to use them with extreme caution. Only use them as long as you have to.”

Stephens had to find out the hard way, but he has now been clean for two years.

“I had to do some work. And I had to go really deep inside of me. I had to get involved in a program, which I was able to be around people with the same problems,” said Stephens.

The CDC study also shows that taking prescription medicine shorter than three days decreases the likelihood of chronic use.