What Are Prescription Painkillers? Types, Uses and History

A painkiller is a type of drug that can be helpful for individuals with severe pain. They are in the opioid family of drugs and are classified as a Schedule II narcotics. 




How Are Painkillers Made?

Opioids are a class of drugs naturally found in the opium poppy plant. They work within the brain to produce a variety of effects, including pain relief.  Opioids are not the only drug that is derived from a plant – another commonly abused drug, cocaine, is made from the leaves of the coca plant. Cocaine is very different from opiate. Cocaine is a stimulant while opioid drugs are sedatives.

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How Are Painkillers Purchased?

Some painkillers and pain relievers can be purchased over the counter, some require a prescription from a doctor, and sometimes they are purchased “on the street”.  Street drugs usually come into the market when someone gets a legitimate prescription from a doctor and then turns around and sells it for profit.  There was a time when “pill mills” were common. These are clinics with licensed doctors that are writing prescriptions for patients, charging a “fee” for the office visit,  without establishing an actual need for pain treatment or the existence of any ailment at all. These pill mills cropped up and were operational due to antiquated or non-existent systems for tracking prescriptions written and prescriptions filled from pharmacy to pharmacy and across cities and states.

Types Of Prescription Painkillers

There are many different types of painkillers ranging from acetamenophine the active ingredient in alcohol to prescription painkillers which contain opioid properties. Here are some:

  • hydromorphone (Dilaudid®)
  • methadone (Dolophine®)
  • meperidine (Demerol®)
  • oxycodone (OxyContin®
  • Percocet®),
  • Fentanyl (Sublimaze®, Duragesic®)

Other Schedule II opiate narcotics include:

  • morphine,
  • opium,
  • codeine
  • hydrocodone

Slang Names For Prescription Opioid Narcotics

Common names for painkillers include:

  • Brand name: Oxycontin, Percocet, Percodan
  • Oxycodone street names: Oxy, Hillbilly Heroin, Percs, O.C., Rims, Tires, Greenies

The History of Painkillers

Opiates and morphine were originally developed in the late 1800s and developed into commercial painkillers. The Bayer Company started the production of painkillers in 1898 for commercial use and it was deemed a medical breakthrough, even being coined a “wonder drug”.  It was quickly discovered that the properties of painkillers could create a euphoric feeling and began a cycle of abuse that has lasted over 100 years. The number of people exposed to the risk of abuse increased exponentially over the last 2o years as drug companies started touting less addictive opioid options, although it was later proven those claims were false.

According to statistics published by the government, More than 70,000 Americans died from a drug overdose in 2019, including illicit drugs and prescription opioids. In the same year, Deaths involving another opioid, fentanyl, continued to rise with more than 36,359 overdose deaths reported in 2019.

Why Are Painkillers So Widely Abused?

Once someone is chemically dependent on painkillers, it is very difficult to detox from the drug because painkiller withdrawal symptoms are so severe. Painkillers are highly addictive and the user can start experiencing withdrawal symptoms as soon as 3 hours after their last use. This makes people that have become chemically dependent on painkillers feel like they physically need the drug consistently throughout the day, which leads to severe dependency and can quickly drive users into a lowered quality of life. 

Addiction to painkillers can be developed when one’s body develops an increased tolerance which leads to the need for higher doses. It can also lead to overdose due to the need for increased dosages or the common practice of mixing with other drugs. 

Painkiller abuse can begin when prescribed medications are misused and/or combined with alcohol or other drugs. It is common for people who are addicted to painkillers to develop tolerance and withdrawal symptoms upon stopping or severely reducing their use. Those who are addicted to painkillers may go through withdrawal symptoms as soon as one hour after taking the last dose of a painkiller. There are many types of painkillers and pain treatments that contain varying levels of opiates. Opiates have been widely regarded and studied as the addictive attribute of painkillers.

Painkillers: Detox And Recovery

Detoxing from painkillers can be severe but it is possible to recover from painkiller addiction. If you have become chemically dependent on painkillers, there are treatment protocols that can be followed. Thousands of people overcome painkiller addiction every year and take the step towards sobriety. If you are struggling with addiction to painkillers you can start the admissions process today.

– Opiate Addiction Treatment & Symptoms (2019). Retrieved from Opiate Addiction Treatment & Symptoms.

https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/treatment-approaches-drug-addiction https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/opioids/what-are-opioids.html

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George Kocher

George Kocher

George is a content creator with 7 years of experience working with substance use disorder patients. He has held positions as an admissions director, marketing manager, and Chief Marketing Officer within chemical dependency.

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