Doctors give advice on breaking the cycle of drug addiction

Doctors give advice on breaking the cycle of drug addiction

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A study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association in early March showed a third of the state's people filled a prescription for some kind of opiate between 2007 and 2011. A study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association in early March showed a third of the state's people filled a prescription for some kind of opiate between 2007 and 2011.
"The problem is, once your body is adapted to these medicines they don't really work anymore," said Dr. John Kupfner. "The problem is, once your body is adapted to these medicines they don't really work anymore," said Dr. John Kupfner.
"Every second feels like you're on the verge of death and the only thing that's going to make it better is that drug," said former addict Steve Wildsmith. "Every second feels like you're on the verge of death and the only thing that's going to make it better is that drug," said former addict Steve Wildsmith.
By LORI TUCKER
6 News Anchor/Reporter
 
KNOXVILLE (WATE) - As Tennessee's struggle with prescription drug abuse worsens, some doctors say they feel responsible.
 
A study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association in early March showed a third of the state's people filled a prescription for some kind of opiate between 2007 and 2011. Researchers also found the number of prescription overdose deaths more than doubled in just eight years.
 
Dr. John Kupfner, a psychiatrist at the Peninsula Outpatient Center in Knoxville, is one of the medical professionals coming forward to say something has to change. Kupfner said he's seeing more people who have grown dependent on drugs like hydrocodone after getting a legitimate prescription from their physician.
 
"The problem is, once your body is adapted to these medicines they don't really work anymore," said Kupfner. "They don't work like they used to, you start just taking them to feel normal again. You take them so that you don't have that withdrawal, so that you feel just like you did before we ever gave them to you."
 
Patients trying to get their hands on more prescription drugs often turn to what's called "doctor shopping." That means they go to multiple doctors or pharmacies to get several prescriptions of the same or similar medications.
 
Because this practice has become so common, physicians are trained to spot drug seeking behaviors in their patients. Some of the red flags include: Asking for more frequent or higher doses, filling prescriptions early, reporting medications as lost or stolen, and going out of the state for drugs.
 
"Much of the United States is just too commutable," said Dr. Kupfner. "If you know you're being watched in one place and you have an addiction issue, it may drive you to another state and pick it up there."

 
In order to cut back on doctor shopping, a special statewide database keeps track of every controlled substance patients bring home from the pharmacy. Doctors are required to check the lists to make sure patients aren't getting multiple prescriptions from different sources.
 
Steve Wildsmith was caught by that database back in 2002, but didn't go to jail because he was already seeking treatment for addiction.
 
Wildsmith has been clean for 12 years now and even works as a consultant for Cornerstone of Recovery, but after getting a prescription for hydrocodone following surgery in 1994, he said he got hooked.
 
"I remember the first time I took it, I didn't like it. It made me sleepy and I just went to bed," explained Wildsmith. "But the next day, I had to go to work. My knee was hurting, I took it, and all of a sudden I felt fantastic. Whatever switch it was got flipped on."
 
By 1999, Wildsmith found himself swallowing 20 to 30 pills every day. Then he moved on to stronger drugs like oxycontin, cocaine and even heroin. 
 
That's when Wildsmith said he finally admitted he had a serious problem: he was an addict. Wildsmith went through rehab twice, once in 2000 and again in 2001. He said the withdrawal from heroin and oxycontin was the worst he's ever felt in his life.
 
"Everything hurt. You can't keep anything down. Your guts are a wreck. Sweating. Uncontrollable leg spasms," described Wildsmith. "Every second feels like you're on the verge of death and the only thing that's going to make it better is that drug."
 
As the Head of Pharmacy at Peninsula, Cheryl Zoborowski has been on the front lines of the drug abuse crisis for more than 20 years. She said it's still heartbreaking to see the toll these medications can take.
"What I say to the patient is, do you want to numb that pain? Or do you want to cure it? Because I've got something better for you that's going to fix your pain so you don't stay on this vicious cycle of chasing after your pain management," said Zoborowski. "[But] they don't believe me because their pain is so intense. They don't know that there's a better way."
 
Alternative treatment options depend on a patient's individual situation, but they can include therapy for anxiety and non-habit forming drugs like high-dose ibuprofen for pain.
Dr. Kupfner advises that painkillers like hydrocodone are really only effective for about two weeks. Using them for much longer than that is often where the cycle of dependence begins.
"If we aren't careful, we make people addicted," said Kupfner."And when you make people addicted, you make them prescribe to a whole new set of behaviors and problems in life they may not have had, had we had the courage to not put pen to paper for too long a period of time."
 
As a patient, one of the most important things you can do is ask questions. Make sure you get information from your doctor about whether the medication you're being prescribed is known to be addictive. Find out what you should be looking out for and if there's a plan for drug dependence.
 
Dr. Kupfner adds that physicians should be looking closely at family histories so they can recognize genetic predisposition to addiction before prescribing these kinds of drugs.
 
The problem of medical addiction isn't just plaguing the state of Tennessee. The entire country is fighting this battle and now the Drug Enforcement Agency along with the Department of Health and Human Services are taking action.
 
After looking at the impact of prescription drug abuse, the DEA has issued a rule change notice which will upgrade hydrocodone combination products to schedule II drugs. Currently, they are considered schedule III.
 
This change means putting more restrictions on how prescriptions are written. The public input period ends on April 28th. The rule is expected to take effect sometime after that date.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, there are options. Peninsula Hospital  has many resources for patients needing treatment. You can contact them at 865-970-9800.

The Helen Ross McNabb Center serves 21 counties in East Tennessee. They have several different crisis hotline numbers posted online; their main number is 1-800-255-9711.
 
You can also reach Cornerstone of Recovery's 24-hour help line by calling 855-925-4673.
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