The use of painkillers is escalating throughout the world but the country that really knows all about prescription pill excess is the United States.

The entertaining and informative segments on CBS Sunday Morning make it one of the few shows on television worth watching.  Last week along with pleasurable visit with Carol talking about her life, they had a disturbing segment on heroin addiction among teens in the affluent community of Naperville IL.

`            Heart rendering interviews with mothers, whose children had died from this horrid addiction, revealed it starts with prescription painkillers.  Most teens get their first prescription drug from the medicine cabinet at home.  Harvard Medical School newsletter says 70 percent of these drugs are obtained from family or friends.  Once they are addicted, and they are no longer able to take the drugs free, kids go to the streets for them and the cost gets steep.  Heroin is cheaper and it keeps up their addiction until disaster strikes. 

            Within a few minutes after the heartbreaking story about heroin addiction, fostered by prescription painkillers, a commercial enticed viewers to relieve their pain by nagging their doctor into prescribing a painkiller

Unlike the crack cocaine epidemic of the 80s which involved mostly young black Americans, today those who succumb to prescription pill overdose and move on to heroin are likely to be affluent white male teenagers. The other factor that sets this disaster apart is its source.  Track the supply of Percocet, OxyCotin and other opiod painkillers and you will arrive, not at a Mexican drug cartel or smuggling ring, but at the medical doctor’s door. 

            The use of painkillers is escalating throughout the world but the country that really knows all about prescription pill excess is the United States.  Americans make up less than 5 percent of the global population but consume 80 percent of the world’s supply of opioid prescription pills.   In 2010 enough of these pain killers were handed out by doctors to medicate every American adult with a typical dose of hydro-codone, a pure opiod as powerful as morphine , every four hours for a month. 

            Perhaps it is time for us to take a look at pain; is it our number one enemy?  What does a painkiller actually do?  There may be a different way to look at pain and there may be healthful ways to deal with it that have nothing to do with drugs.   A drug is a quick fix that doesn’t fix. 

            Dr. David Williams, in his newsletter ALTERNATIVES, explains:  Most of the way drugs work seems to be based on the premise of fooling the body.  In the majority of cases, drugs trick the body into acting as it normally would if it were healthy.  He says there are as many examples as there are drugs and corticosteroids are among the most commonly used.  Corticosteroids mimic the effects of cortisone and other hormones produced by the adrenal glands, resulting in a weakened immune system by limiting the body’s natural inflammatory response; making you more susceptible to infections and increasing your risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer.  An anti-inflammatory diet would correct many problems for which people take these medications.

            Pain is often a friend that warns us of impending damage and protects the body from injury.  I once read worst part of leprosy is that the person feels no pain.  They can have their foot in fire and not feel it while the foot is destroyed.  They lose limbs in this way.  The article said when we take painkillers we are creating a leprosy-like condition.  We kill pain and therefore, without pain’s warning signals, we are likely to cause even more serious problems. 

            A man told me he ignored foot pain; the result was he unconsciously favored it; ended up with a knee replacement on the other side; favored that knee and ended up with a hip replacement on the other side.  It was all because he ignored foot pain.

            Sometimes pain comes with a specific illness and seems to have no usefulness—for example shingles.  When I had shingles, I used a relaxation CD which taught me to let go of pain and I used no painkillers.  When the pain subsided, I knew I was recovering.  Mayo Clinic has a tremendous CD from their pain clinic. 

            Some pain can be relieved by stretching.  Back pain is one of the common problems for which strong painkillers are commonly prescribed; and yet if you pay attention to your body, most of it can be avoided by appropriate stretching.  You are actually curing the condition rather than blocking symptoms. 

            If we disconnected the warning signals given on our car dashboard, or if we ignore or deaden pain with drugs, something much more serious will likely be the result.

            Let’s stop this madness of taking a pill for every ailment and teaching our kids that when they hurt there is a pill for it.  Teach healthy habits—and perhaps we can halt this painful epidemic. 

            Respect your body’s wisdom and it will repay you many times over.

            (Janice Norris lives in Heber Springs, has a B.S. in home economics from Murray State University, owned and operated health food stores in Illinois and Heber Springs, and wrote a weekly column in Illinois for 15 years. She can be reached at