Two people were charged this month on charges of running a painkiller trafficking ring that sourced its pills in Florida and then brought them into Ohio for resale. A total of 13 people were arrested, but the two who were allegedly in charge of the drug ring may end up with a minimum sentence of 11 years in prison for their part in masterminding the scheme. Essentially, the pair enlisted 11 people to travel to Florida and obtain pain pills from a doctor, and then return to Ohio with the drugs for sale.
In the past, Florida was known as a place where people could easily connect with a “pill mill” and get painkillers with relative ease. That is, illegal so-called “pain clinics” made it easy for “patients” to seek treatment for pain and secure prescriptions for strong painkillers with little to no medical investigation. As people across the country began to realize the serious problem that painkillers were causing in terms of addiction and inadvertent overdose, government organizations and law enforcement worked together to root out these Florida pill mills, making the state a safer and healthier place for residents and visitors alike.
Unfortunately, cases like this demonstrate that there is still work to be done in terms of educating doctors on how to identify those who are seeking pills and stopping legitimate pill prescriptions from being diverted to the black market.
Seeing the Signs
Knowing when someone is seeking pills is not always an easy thing, especially for family physicians who are not heavily experienced or trained in treating chronic pain and have a busy practice. The assumption is that most patients who seek pain management are genuinely in need of assistance, and many doctors err on the side of providing too much assistance over not providing enough.
The result may be that some people slip through the cracks. That is, someone may be pill-seeking in order to manage an addiction rather than to manage chronic pain. Additionally, some patients may start out with a legitimate need for pain management but ultimately develop an addiction to their prescription. Doctors and family members may not be sure what exactly the person is facing and not know if or when help is needed.
If you are concerned that your loved one may have an addiction to their painkiller prescription, some signs include:
- Lying about whether or not they have taken any pills or how much they have taken
- Mixing painkillers with use of other drugs, such as alcohol or marijuana
- Crushing pills before ingesting them
- Snorting or injecting crushed painkillers
- Frequently “losing” pills and needing an emergency script
- Going to the emergency room, citing pain to get more painkillers
Your first step in helping your loved one to manage the issue of addiction is to talk to them about your concerns. This starts with informal conversations that generate from a place of love and respect with the goal of helping them to heal – rather than judgment and accusations. Addiction is a medical disorder, and someone who is living with a painkiller addiction may not realize that they are in fact struggling with unsafe use of their prescription. Helping them to understand your concern and making sure they know that you are prepared to support them in recovery may encourage them to take the next step and get treatment.
A Formal Discussion
Unfortunately, addiction negatively impacts the way the brain functions and perceives use of pills. The individual may fear being without the drug of choice, fear the return of serious pain if that is still an issue, or fear withdrawal symptoms that often accompany the cessation of opiate drug use. For this reason, denial and defensiveness may be the response to concerned inquiries, and a formal drug addiction intervention may be the most effective way to help your loved one begin the healing process. Gathering together other concerned family members, with or without the assistance of a professional interventionist, and pointing out that addiction is a medical disorder and clearly a problem for the individual and that treatment – immediate treatment – is the best way to begin to heal can help your loved one to realize that now is the time to create positive change.