Painkiller addiction: Why analgesic abuse is causing more health problems

5th April 2023

Abusing painkillers
By Anthony Ademiluy

Analgesics are medications that help to relieve different types of ailments. They are also called painkillers and while some are prescribed many are available in pharmacies without a prescription. Painkillers abuse, misuse, and addiction, experts say, are on the rise, warning that this poses a serious public health challenge. ANTHONY ADEMILUYI reports
George Izulu, 48 works as a security guard in a company attached to the French Oil Multinational, Total in Victoria Island, Lagos State. He is a contract staff of Total as he was employed by a different company but posted to Total.
In his much younger days, he was a spy policeman and had worked with Royal Dutch Oil Multinational, Shell otherwise known as Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company in Marina Lagos. He disclosed that he worked for about thirteen years with Shell before he was laid off in 2015.
Now close to 50, Izulu battles constant back pain and usually resorts to getting relief from the pain by using painkillers.He said, “I use Ibuprofen for my pain. There is also this drug called Real extra but I have forgotten the medical name. it is stronger than the normal Panadol, I use it as well.
There is this other one called Ibrufin which is also a brand of ibuprofen. it is very strong. I use it whenever I am in pain.
“It dulls the pain and especially when you go through strenuous training or like when we work in the beat when we stand for hours. Some were prescribed to us once so there is no need for you to go back to the doctor. We just keep on buying it because it is effective that is the bottom line. It’s good as it works. I know they are bound to have side effects as I use them whenever I have pain but I don’t really see the big deal in self-medicating on them. I know the danger of self-medication, but what do we do? I know the dangers involved but the cash flow is so little so what do we do? That is the bottom line,” he said.
Izulu said he also used to take Tramadol but insisted that he is not addicted to the drugs. “No I am not addicted but I have some colleagues when I was working for Shell company who were very much addicted because they must take it every morning and night. Some take two tablets in the morning and another two tablets at night making four tablets daily.
“When you finish using the drug, the pain will be gone but you feel kind of lazy and weak then later your body will pick up. it will give you this kind of feeling of as if you are weak and you can’t move very fast at some point in time but later your body will now adjust to it probably the system will be working out itself, I don’t know.”
‘I use painkillers as a form of First Aid’
Our correspondent also spoke with Orlando Danjuma, 25 an athlete. Danjuma said he often uses painkillers as first aid whenever he has pain.
Some of the painkillers that Danjuma uses personally are tramadol, diclofenac, and ibuprofen. He also disclosed that he occasionally overdoses on paracetamol when he is in pain.
He said: “Most times athletes do use painkillers without a doctor’s prescription because it acts as first aid treatment before any professional help comes.“I know it is harmful taking them without the doctor’s prescription but those painkillers being administered initially are not really harmful to the health because they are the same that will be prescribed by the doctors, but the difference is that you take it before the prescription of the doctor”.Even though he takes it whenever he feels pain, he also insisted that he is not addicted. “No! Addiction is not good. Addiction to it is not good. It is harmful to get addicted. Most times probably you can take it for two days at a stretch, but the continuous use of it is harmful to health.”
Findings by PUNCH HealthWise revealed that the attitude of Izulu and Danjuma to painkillers is reflective of how many Nigerians see analgesics. Many people view painkillers as harmless medications that can be taken anytime they feel they need them without much thought about the risk of misuse, abuse, and even side effects.
However, experts are warning that this attitude is unhealthy as painkiller abuse often leads to addiction which increases the risks of some serious health complications.

What are Painkillers?
Painkillers also called analgesics are used to treat pain or manage a lifelong painful condition. They can be bought over the counter or with the doctor’s prescription.Examples of painkillers include Paracetamol, NSAIDs – Ibuprofen, aspirin, and diclofenac gel; Compound Painkillers such as Co-Codamol, Codeine, and Ibuprofen.According to a report published online by the American Psychiatric Association, nearly one in 10 people say they have taken an opioid or prescription painkiller without a prescription. Five per cent of US adults say they have abused or have been addicted to opioids or prescription painkillers, up from 1 percent in 2017.
The situation may not be much different across the world as painkillers abuse has become a global problem.
Abuse of painkillers causing serious harm –Experts
According to Oluchi Linda Nwosu, a pharmacist with the Administrative Staff College of Nigeria, Badagry, Lagos, and a public health enthusiast, the real challenge is the abuse of over-the-counter painkillers by those indulging in self-medication.
Nwosu said, “Painkillers are drugs that relieve pain. However, using them repeatedly without a doctor’s prescription makes them unsafe”.
The pharmacist explained that while not all painkillers require a doctor’s prescription, it is still wrong to abuse drugs, especially painkillers by using them at the slightest feeling of pain, noting that it may be necessary to find out what is causing the pain and deal with it appropriately.
Also speaking with PUNCH HealthWise, senior registrar, Family Medicine Department, Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto, Dr. Laurat Mahmud, warned against painkiller misuse noting that those taking them without a prescription should exercise caution as analgesic abuse over a long period can lead to damage of important organs of the body.


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