Ask the Doctor: What You Need to Know About Opioid Prescription Painkiller Addiction

June 11, 2013

(BPT) - Americans are facing a growing epidemic: an equal opportunity disease, affecting individuals of all ages, genders, races and socioeconomic status. Opioid prescription painkiller addiction, a form of opioid dependence, is a chronic disease that affects the brain. Although many believe it is a result of a moral failing or lack of control, research shows opioid prescription painkiller addiction is a long-term medical condition that alters the brain’s chemistry, making it difficult for someone to stop. This means the brain has been affected by the disease.

Opioid prescription painkiller addiction has increased in population size in the United States for 11 consecutive years as of 2011, and overdose deaths now exceed deaths involving heroin and cocaine combined. The good news is today there are effective treatment options and counseling available for individuals suffering from this serious disease. John Tanner, D.O., FASAM, a physician at Parthenon Behavioral Center in Jacksonville, Fla., addresses several frequently asked questions about opioid prescription painkiller addiction below.

How do people become addicted to opioid prescription painkillers?

Opioid addiction can often result from continued recreational use of opioid prescription painkillers, but it also can come about as an unexpected consequence of proper pain management with prescription treatment. While the specific causes vary from person to person, certain factors, such as the medication itself, family history and the individual’s environment, are known to be key components of opioid addiction development. The addiction comes when someone is unable to stop using the medication after the pain passes. Over time, opioid prescription painkillers can alter the brain’s chemistry by “resetting” the brain so an individual begins to feel they need more and more of the medication, as in cravings, just to get through the day. That’s why opioid prescription painkiller addiction is recognized by the medical community as a long-term medical disease.

What are the signs and symptoms of opioid prescription painkiller addiction?

There are several things people should look out for, both as the person using opioid prescription painkillers, and as a family member or friend of a person believed to be using them:

  • No longer using the medication for pain, but because of the way the drug makes them feel
  • Drastic changes in behavior, including constant drowsiness or trouble concentrating
  • Social behavior changes, including increased secrecy from friends and family

What treatment options are available for people living with opioid prescription painkiller addiction?

There are a range of treatment options available for those suffering from opioid prescription painkiller addiction, but often patients may be too embarrassed to ask for help or may not be familiar with their options. These include office-based treatment in the privacy of a certified doctor’s office, treatment in a methadone clinic, counseling and 12-step programs. Treatment for a disease like opioid prescription painkiller addiction should be determined on an individual basis with a focus on the needs of each particular patient.

What does office-based treatment involve?

Office-based treatment aims to help patients stop opioid misuse and regain control over their lives. Many people think they have to put their lives on hold and go away to rehab to get treatment, but there are doctors who understand opioid addiction and can treat this medical condition just like other chronic medical conditions in the privacy of their office.  These medications include SUBOXONE® (buprenorphine and naloxone) Sublingual Film (CIII), a medication millions of patients have used to help reduce illicit opioid use and remain in treatment by managing withdrawal symptoms and reducing craving. Because SUBOXONE Film is approved for at-home use, people living with opioid addiction can continue their daily lives while under a doctor’s care similar to other chronic diseases, such as diabetes, asthma or hypertension. SUBOXONE Film is covered by the majority of insurance plans, Medicare and Medicaid, and individuals may also be eligible for a copay savings program. As opioid prescription painkiller addiction involves behavioral and biological components, treatment should always include counseling and support. Furthermore, counseling can help patients learn to cope with events or situations associated with past drug use and master skills that can help them recognize triggers and prevent relapse.

Visit for more information or to find a doctor that understands and treats opioid prescription painkiller addiction near you.


SUBOXONE Sublingual Film is indicated for maintenance treatment of opioid dependence as part of a complete treatment plan to include counseling and psychosocial support.

Treatment should be initiated under the direction of physicians qualified under the Drug Addiction Treatment Act.

Important Safety Information

SUBOXONE Sublingual Film should not be used by patients hypersensitive to buprenorphine or naloxone, as serious adverse reactions, including anaphylactic shock, have been reported.

SUBOXONE Sublingual Film can be abused in a manner similar to other opioids, legal or illicit. Clinical monitoring appropriate to the patient’s level of stability is essential.

Chronic use of buprenorphine can cause physical dependence. A sudden or rapid decrease in dose may result in an opioid withdrawal syndrome that is typically milder than seen with full agonists and may be delayed in onset.

SUBOXONE Sublingual Film can cause serious life-threatening respiratory depression and death, particularly when taken by the intravenous (IV) route in combination with benzodiazepines or other central nervous system (CNS) depressants (ie, sedatives, tranquilizers, or alcohol). It is extremely dangerous to self-administer nonprescribed benzodiazepines or other CNS depressants while taking SUBOXONE Sublingual Film. Dose reduction of CNS depressants, SUBOXONE Sublingual Film, or both when both are being taken should be considered.

Liver function should be monitored before and during treatment.

Death has been reported in nontolerant, nondependent individuals, especially in the presence of CNS depressants.

Children who take SUBOXONE Sublingual Film can have severe, possibly fatal, respiratory depression.

Emergency medical care is critical. Keep SUBOXONE Sublingual Film out of the sight and reach of children.

Intravenous misuse or taking SUBOXONE Sublingual Film before the effects of full-agonist opioids (eg, heroin, hydrocodone, methadone, morphine, oxycodone) have subsided is highly likely to cause opioid withdrawal symptoms.

Neonatal withdrawal has been reported.

Use of SUBOXONE Sublingual Film in pregnant women or during breast-feeding should only be considered if the potential benefit justifies the potential risk.

Caution should be exercised when driving vehicles or operating hazardous machinery, especially during dose adjustment.

Adverse events commonly observed with the sublingual administration of SUBOXONE Sublingual Film are oral hypoesthesia, glossodynia, oral mucosal erythema, headache, nausea, vomiting, hyperhidrosis, constipation, signs and symptoms of withdrawal, insomnia, pain, and peripheral edema.

Cytolytic hepatitis, jaundice, and allergic reactions, including anaphylactic shock, have been reported.

This is not a complete list of potential adverse events associated with SUBOXONE Sublingual Film. Please see full Prescribing Information for a complete list at

To report an adverse event associated with taking SUBOXONE Sublingual Film, please call 1-877-782-6966. You are encouraged to report adverse events of prescription drugs to the FDA. Visit or call 1-800-FDA-1088.