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Every second patient ends up with opioid addiction through painkillers

In the article from 20min, Patricia Manndorff provides information about the problem. With OPIOSTOP, she has been helping people to get away from their opioid addiction for over ten years. In the past, mainly drug junkies - today, more and more painkiller addicts.

Ein Fläschchen Tramadol und andere Schmerzmittel
One in two patients slips into opioid addiction via painkillers

This is what this article is all about

  • More and more often, people are slipping into addiction via an opioid painkiller.

  • Experts are concerned because it is increasingly affecting young people - and the numbers are always rising.

  • Patricia Manndorff helps people with an opiate or opioid addiction break the habit.

  • Ten years ago, it was almost exclusively drug addicts. Now, more and more people are coming to her for painkiller addiction.

Opioid use in Switzerland is rising sharply. "We see in our internal figures an increase of very young users in recent years. The numbers are not alarmingly high, but what we don't like is that they are increasing a little bit every year," says Philipp Bruggmann, co-chief resident in internal medicine at Zurich's Arud Center for Addiction Medicine.

Patricia Manndorff, a specialist in anesthesia and intensive care medicine at Spitäler fmi AG and founder of Opiostop, also notices the increase. In this capacity, Manndorff has been performing opiate withdrawals at Interlaken Hospital since 2012. "Ten years ago, I treated almost exclusively drug addicts. Today, 40 to 50 percent of my patients are pain patients," she says.

These patients slip into addiction via legally prescribed opioids, such as after surgery. "The diabolical thing about opioids is that they become addictive after just three to four weeks because the body no longer makes its own natural opioids, called endorphins," Manndorff says. So if someone is prescribed a whole pack of opioids after surgery and then picks up another one with the prescription from their primary care doctor, that's already enough to develop a dependence.

"The longer the addiction, the harder it is to quit"

"People get into a downward spiral because they develop a tolerance: they become dependent and need higher and higher doses to get the same effect." The longer someone is in this spiral, he said, the harder it becomes to get out because withdrawal symptoms get worse.

Manndorff describes the classic stages of withdrawal symptoms as follows: "It starts with your eyes watering and your nose running. Then come violent freezing and sweating, followed by enormous inner restlessness and sleep disturbances. After that, the whole body begins to ache, blood pressure and pulse increase, breathing rate increases, and in extreme cases, hallucinations and epileptic seizures occur."

"Many are ashamed to admit their addiction"

According to the doctor, the fact that people end up in such a state after an operation that is harmless in and of itself can have various reasons: "Everyone wants to be pain-free. But many people are simply not aware of how quickly these drugs become addictive, including doctors." In addition, "opioids also trigger a certain sense of well-being and a slight euphoria. To voluntarily give them up again when you still have medication in your cabinet can be difficult."

Once addicted, many people are ashamed to admit it: "They led a normal life, never had addiction problems before." This leads to people seeking help too late and first trying to get the painkillers they need to satisfy their addiction through legal, and later sometimes illegal, channels.

"After an operation, there should not simply be a prescription for opioids."

Procurement on the street or on the black market is still a marginal phenomenon: "But I already have patients who take astronomical doses by stocking up at several different pharmacies and doctors. They don't know about it, of course, and therefore can't intervene."

For Manndorff, it is therefore also clear where to start: "It cannot be that patients simply receive a prescription for opioids after an operation. There needs to be more regulation so that hospitalists don't just give a prescription and a whole box of opioids for pain."

Brugmann also says, "I see time and time again that opioid painkillers are given by the package more or less unseen after surgery. Before dispensing, the patient should be questioned about addiction factors and risks." For example, it would be necessary to find out whether the patient already has addictive disorders or whether there are any in his or her family. "Certain mental illnesses can also be a risk factor. Such a check is reasonable for every doctor."

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This article by editor Daniel Graf appeared in 20min on 29/04/2023. Click here for the original article.

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