SALT LAKE CITY — Prescription medications are necessary for many to manage symptoms of various diseases and conditions, but the drugs have also become a mainstay for individuals young and old who have developed a dependency on them.
The latter, however, can be harmful not only to those taking the pills, sometimes illicitly, but to society as well. And the habit can be hard to kick.
"Most people who come into treatment are coerced in some way," said Dr. Ted Wander, a general adult psychiatrist and medical director at Intermountain Healthcare's LDS Hospital inpatient psychiatric unit.
While successful treatment relies on individual commitment levels, he said, people are often driven to join a program because of some potential consequence outside of their control. A person's addiction can spur criminal activity, leading to court-ordered treatment or legal issues; a potential job loss; failure of a drug test; or alienation from a spouse or other family members.
"Our task is to help them do it for themselves," Wander said.
Wander and Jan Frederickson, an addiction substance abuse disorder counselor with the LDS Hospital Dayspring Treatment Center, will participate in the Deseret News/Intermountain Healthcare Health Hotline on Saturday, when they will answer questions from the public regarding chemical dependency and treatment.
Anyone interested can call 800-925-8177 or post questions on the Deseret News Facebook page, www.facebook.com/deseretnews, between 10 a.m. and noon Saturday.
The most common prescription medication abused in Utah, Wander said, is oxycodone, or OxyContin, which is prescribed primarily for moderate to severe pain following surgery or for chronic issues with pain.
Some people don't respond favorably to taking pain medications, such as oxycodone, and end up just feeling sleepy or lethargic, and others take them and "feel better than they've ever felt before," Wander said.
Teenagers are often introduced to the drug in high school and some become addicted, he said, later requiring more potent drugs, such as heroin, which can also be obtained illegally but is more powerful and less expensive. Adults are often introduced to opioids by a legitimate prescription from a doctor, Wander said.
"The reason they up the dose is they're either not getting enough pain relief from it or they're getting high," he said.
Either habit can lead to full-fledged addiction, which most often requires a highly involved medical support system to kick.
"It's really important that people not have time on their hands," Wander said, adding that "boredom is a risk factor for relapse."
Treatment is about trying to prevent a relapse, identifying habits that lead to drug use in the first place, he said.
Various programs exist throughout the state to help people understand and overcome the need to rely on drugs, alcohol and other substances as a mental or emotional coping mechanism, which is a significant driver to the illicit prescription drug market.
Oftentimes, chemical dependency issues require a detoxification process that prepares someone for short- and/or long-term treatment and psychiatric counseling.
Relapse prevention medications, even other narcotics with addictive properties, are also sometimes helpful and/or necessary to maintain sobriety.
The most successful participants, Frederickson said, are those who follow through.
Completion of a treatment program is only the beginning of a lifelong determination to remain clean and/or sober, she said.
"The disease is so powerful (that) it affects every aspect of your life," Frederickson said. "It is like a car. Unless you're maintaining it … it won't last."
Wander said if dependency issues are not addressed, they can lead to death in some people in the form of a drug overdose. Opioids, he said, "are very tricky," and tolerance levels of the painkilling drugs can be misleading, resulting in the shutdown of the heart and lungs during sleep.
"Just about everyone in detox knows of someone who has died from an overdose," Wander said.
Society also suffers in terms of lost productivity at home and in the workplace, but also because those addicted to medications are unable to function properly as parents or citizens and often fall into law-breaking or other destructive behaviors. The cost of incarceration also falls to families of the addict and to society.Comment on this story
Saturday: A look at how families can impact addiction recovery
The Deseret News/Intermountain Healthcare Hotline focuses on chemical dependency treatment. From 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Dr. Ted Wander, a psychiatrist with the LDS Hospital Dayspring Treatment Center, and Jan Frederickson, a substance abuse counselor at the facility, will answer questions from the public.
Call 800-925-8177 during that time. Those interested can also post questions during that time on the Deseret News Facebook page, www.facebook.com/deseretnews.