Prescription Painkiller Addiction on the Main Line

The dissemination of prescription painkillers has spawned a new wave of addiction. As doctors and other healthcare professionals scramble to mitigate the damage in our region, many are succeeding in unexpected ways.

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Illustration by Anita KunzFrom the start, Jessica* had problems. Learning disabilities impeded her academic and social progress in school, and a broken home stole her sense of security. Not surprisingly, her self-esteem suffered. The Delaware County native fell in with the wrong crowd. They did stupid things—then dangerous things.   

When it comes to drug abuse and the struggle to cope, opiates are a well-known scourge. These days, morphine, codeine and heroin have been joined by more modern drugs commonly prescribed to combat pain. Those names are familiar now, too—Oxycontin, Percocet, Vicodin—and they’re a common sight in many medicine cabinets. Most people get along fine when they take them as prescribed. Some, however, don’t fare so well. As much as 15 percent of the population may be “genetically vulnerable to addiction,” says Dr. Neal Shore, who practices addiction psychiatry in Bryn Mawr.

The bulk of a prescribed 30-day supply often languishes in the medicine cabinet for months or even years, and young people target bathrooms at home and elsewhere for unused pills. “‘If Mom and Dad are taking it,’ they figure, ‘what could be wrong?’” says Dr. Richard DiMonte, a Media-based family practitioner and addiction-treatment specialist.

Many kids are grinding up the pills and snorting them to get high. “There’s an epidemic of prescription opiate dependence,” says Dr. Kyle Kampman, a University of Pennsylvania psychiatry professor. “[Users are] younger and across all socioeconomic strata.”

* Fictional name used to protect the subject’s identity.

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