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Opioid Abuse in Pennsylvania


Table of Contents

  1. Intro
  2. What is Painkiller Abuse
  3. Pennsylvania Statistics of Abuse
  4. Side Effects
  5. How do Painkillers Work
  6. Why People use Painkillers
  7. Can They be Safe
  8. Alternatives
  9. Combining Opioids with Other Substances
  10. Treating Opioid Abuse at Valley Forge Medical Center


Painkiller abuse is prevalent in Pennsylvania and other regions of the United States. As a prescription medication, it helps in providing relief of mild or severe pain. In the long run, continuous use of these drugs may result in physical dependence, making them highly addictive.

Pennsylvania has a high rate of pain prescription medication abuse. Note that opioids classify as prescription pills. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse[1], 65 percent of overdose deaths in 2018 involved opioids. From the stats of overdose deaths due to opioids, it’s evident that a certain percentage of individuals don’t comprehend the appropriate use of painkillers.

What is Painkiller Abuse?

Painkiller abuse describes the use of pain prescription medications or opioids to create specific pleasurable effects on the brain. Continuous abuse of pain drugs results in physical dependence and tolerance. Medical experts diagnose addiction to opioids when the symptoms are visible. When individuals become addicted to painkillers, it results in an increased urge for consumption.

Pain meds fall into different groups, including compound, opioid, non-opioid, and anti-inflammatory medications. Opioid types[2] include codeine, meperidine, oxycodone, morphine, hydromorphone, methadone, hydrocodone, diphenoxylate, meperidine, and propoxyphene.

Statistics of Painkiller Abuse in Pennsylvania

According to the PA Opioid Report[3], increased fentanyl (an opioid type) availability and abuse resulted in 65 percent of drug overdose deaths between 2015 and 2017. The same report also states Pennsylvania experienced over 5,000 drug overdose deaths in 2017. Another key finding of the report states that the heroin and fentanyl availability in Pennsylvania impacts 97 percent of countries.

Side Effects of Painkillers

Side effects of painkillers are not common, but they typically occur due to the high frequency of use. Certain medications may also result in mild to severe side effects, depending on the drug’s chemical composition and the individual. One of the most typical after-effects of pain meds is the short-term development of rash. Here are some other significant ones:

  1. Constipation: The development of constipation is a common side effect of opioids and other pain meds. In most cases, it can easily get suppressed by the individual or a doctor. It’s advisable to consume more dietary fiber or increase water intake to suppress the constipation effect.

Note that constipation may be due to diverticular disease, colorectal cancer, or endocrine problems in severe cases. When an individual observes constipation while using pain prescription medications, it’s imperative to consult a doctor for proper diagnosis.

  • Nausea: Nausea and vomiting may be short- or long-term side effects of consuming pain meds. They typically occur on the first or second day of taking the drug. According to a study, nausea occurs due to specific mechanisms involving the body’s peripheral and central sites.

Pain killers may trigger nausea due to the stimulation of the chemoreceptor trigger zone (CTZ). It occurs when the body recognizes the substance as foreign or unwanted.

  • Slowed breathing: Individuals may experience depressed breathing[4], especially when pain meds like opioids are in high doses. When there’s a high intake of opioids, it results in a blockage of air entering the lungs.

Individuals experiencing asthma may get worse symptoms due to slow breathing. Due to the dangers of depressed breathing, it’s imperative to consult a doctor when it’s noticed.

  • Hallucinations: Certain prescription medications for pain induce hallucinations. Morphine[5], a form of opioid, is a substance that commonly causes hallucinations. One of the main reasons for the hallucination effects of the opioid is its widespread availability and history of use.

How Do Painkillers Work?

Painkillers function by interfering with the pain messages sent to the human brain through nerve endings. Generally, these medications work with the body cells and nervous system to prevent the brain from feeling pain. Pain meds like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) function by inhibiting the effect of cyclo-oxygenase enzymes involved in the production of pain.

Various medical conditions require the use of pain relievers. Some of these conditions include shingles, menstrual pain, multiple sclerosis, sprains, and low back pain. Note that appropriate use of pain medication improves overall well-being but may negatively affect misuse.

Why People Use Painkillers

These medications are essential for managing mild to severe pain, but there’s a high tendency of abuse and addiction. Individuals use pain meds for treating mild pain from headaches or severe pain from certain medical conditions. Here’s more detail about the importance of these drugs:

  • An improved personal and professional relationship: Consistent pain due to a medical condition may influence an individual’s relationship with others. Pain induces stress and reduces productivity at work, home, or school. Using painkillers helps in subduing pain and may improve human relationships.
  • Better sense of overall well-being: Various factors may cause pain in an individual, affecting overall well-being. Consistent pain influences breathing rate, blood pressure, heart rate, and muscle tension. All of these conditions may make an individual feel significant levels of fatigue throughout the day.
  • Pain control: The most significant importance of pain meds is controlling pain in the body. When areas of the body hurt, it’s typically due to injured cells. Pain relievers ensure that these cells don’t release prostaglandin, which are lipids produced at sites of tissue damage.

How Safe are Painkillers?

When individuals follow the doctor’s prescription, these medications are usually safe. Continuous use and increase in dosage of pain meds due to their euphoric effect make it unsafe. Opioids tend to cause physical dependence, which also relates to the development of tolerance. With time, individuals may develop a state of adaptation to pain meds that lead to the diminishing effects of use.

When individuals experience a reduction in the effect of pain relievers, dosage increment is highly possible. Hence, the individual engages in abuse that may result in addiction. Consuming more than the recommended dosage of a pain reliever typically results in mild to severe side effects. Common side effects of the drugs include nausea, constipation, respiratory depression, and dizziness.

Alternatives to Opioid Painkillers

Due to the addictive effects of opioids and other pain medications, doctors may prescribe other alternatives. Note that some of these treatment methods are more effective on specific individuals compared to others, depending on various factors. Generally, they usually provide the same outcome. Here are the alternatives of pain meds in Pennsylvania to note:

  1. Acupuncture: The process of acupuncture involves using very thin needles in different regions of the skin to interrupt pain signals. Note that the process of acupuncture requires an expert to make specific movements using hands or electrical stimulation. Certain studies[6] ascertain the effectiveness of this technique in the reduction of chronic pain.
  • Surgery: In some instances, doctors may recommend surgeries when other treatment methods are ineffective. The purpose of surgery is to make necessary corrections to regions of the body that may be potential causes of the pain. Note that NSAIDs may also be essential after the surgery to prevent possible pain.
  • Physical Therapy: This procedure is a common alternative to prescription medications. It involves creating suitable treatment programs like exercise that may help reduce pain effects. Generally, physical therapy may involve either passive or active therapy, depending on the physical therapist’s recommendation.
  • Injections: Medical experts may recommend the use of injections with local anesthetics to help reduce pain. The common types of injections include sacroiliac joint injections, facet joint injections, and epidural steroid injections. It’s vital to consult a medical doctor and avoid using these types of injections for self-medication.

Apart from those alternatives, doctors may also consider the use of radio waves, electrical signals, nerve blocks, pain pumps, and spinal cord stimulation.

Combining Opioids with Other Medications

Painkillers tend to react with other substances. For this reason, it’s crucial to inform the doctor about other substances you may be taking while using pain meds. OTC medications tend to create specific reactions in the body. For example, cold and allergy drugs with diphenhydramine cause sedative effects when mixed with painkillers.

Other substances that may cause a reaction when combined with pain meds include;

  • Alcohol: Prescription-only painkillers like opioids are not suitable for use alongside alcohol. Using both medications may cause significant side effects like drowsiness. Mixing both drugs may also result in other after-effects like irregular heart rate, dehydration, and loss of consciousness.
  • Muscle relaxers: These types of drugs are helpful for treating acute muscle pain and significant discomfort due to muscle spasms. Muscle relaxants pose a risk to individuals, especially when combined with pain meds. The US Food and Drug Administration cautions the simultaneous use of opioids and muscle relaxants.
  • Anti-seizure drugs: Anti-seizure medication is helpful in controlling the pain caused by damaged nerves. The original purpose of these medications was to treat individuals with epilepsy. Using painkillers in wrong doses with anti-seizure medication may result in certain complications. Hence, it’s essential to speak to a doctor before use.
  • Benzodiazepines: Both painkillers and benzodiazepines may have sedative effects and suppress the breathing of individuals using them. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse[7], 16 percent of overdose deaths involving opioid painkillers also involved benzodiazepines.

Treating Opioid Addiction at Valley Forge Medical Center in Pennsylvania

Painkiller abuse in Pennsylvania and other parts of the United States is prevalent due to the nature of the medications. Side effects of painkillers are severe. Hence, it’s highly imperative to always follow the doctor’s prescription. Consult a licensed medical expert for when early symptoms of pain medication abuse are evident.

In the event, dependence or addiction has developed, treatment is often necessary. Valley Forge Medical Center is a full service addiction hospital where one can receive treatment for harmful addictions while still getting the care neeeded for physical and medical conditions. Part of the renowned Avenues recovery network, a highly skilled team of doctors and addiction professionals will collaborate on mapping out the best plan possible to achieve lasting recovery without compromising on the physical health of their clients.

Valley Forge Medical Center is building a community established on empathy, professionalism, and top level care. It is a first place facility building second chances. Reach out today to hear more!

  1. NIDA. 2020, April 3. Pennsylvania: Opioid-Involved Deaths and Related Harms. Retrieved from on 2021, July 28
  2. NIDA. 2021, July 16. Prescription Pain Medications (Opioids). Retrieved from on 2021, July 28
  3. ‘PA Opioid Report’, US Drug Enforcement Administration,
  4. Bachmutsky I, Wei XP, Kish E, Yackle K. Opioids depress breathing through two small brainstem sites. Elife. 2020 Feb 19;9:e52694. doi: 10.7554/eLife.52694. PMID: 32073401; PMCID: PMC7077984.
  5. Sivanesan, E., Gitlin, M. C., & Candiotti, K. A. (2016). Opioid-induced Hallucinations: A Review of the Literature, Pathophysiology, Diagnosis, and Treatment. Anesthesia and analgesia, 123(4), 836–843.
  6. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, Acupuncture: In Depth,
  7. National Institute on Drug Abuse, ‘Benzodiazepines and Opioids’,

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