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Netflix’s new series shows how corporate greed spurred a massive public health crisis, changing many families forever.

Painkiller: Netflix Takes on the Story Behind the Opioid Epidemic

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When Oxycontin burst on the scene as the newest innovation in pain management, many doctors were led to believe that this was a safer, effective alternative to other opioids. Netflix’s “Painkiller” shows us nothing could have been further from the truth.

In the United States alone, opioids kill more than 136 Americans every day, and are responsible for more than two-thirds of all drug overdoses. Netflix’s bombshell new mini-series “Painkiller,” offers a based-on-real-life story of Purdue Pharma’s aggressive marketing of the then-new, semi-synthetic opioid Oxycontin in the mid to late 90s, and the role this played in the rise in rates of opioid use and addiction in the United States. 

How the “Painkiller” Netflix Mini-Series Details the Origins of Oxycontin

In “Painkiller,” the story rotates between Purdue’s campaign to promote Oxycontin despite the known risks, the legal battle to hold Purdue accountable, and the impacts of addiction on families across the country. Actual testimony from family members of loved ones lost to opioid addiction used in the series underscores how destructive Oxycontin can be, even when used under a doctor’s care.

With well-known actors like Matthew Broderick, Uzo Aduba and Taylor Kitsch leading a strong ensemble cast, this fictionalised account explains how Oxycontin came to be one of the most popularly prescribed painkillers on the market, with sales rapidly expanding from $48 million to $1.1 billion in just a four year period. Purdue Pharma ensured this rise through the relentless marketing and promotion of the drug to the medical community, despite evidence of highly addictive properties. This push fueled the opioid epidemic, which is still killing tens of thousands of people annually in the U.S., and has raised larger questions about the safety of opioids in pain management.

What is Oxycontin and How is it Used?

Oxycontin is a semi-synthetic opioid used primarily to treat moderate to severe pain. It was developed in 1995 with a controlled-release feature that allowed it to be effective for 12 hours in treating pain related to a variety of conditions, including injuries, arthritis, and cancer. Purdue Pharma claimed that it was believed that this extended-release quality made it less addictive than other opioids, though this was ultimately proven to be untrue. 

In fact, after the introduction of Oxycontin, from 1997 to 2003 the number of opioid-related deaths increased by eight times, spurring actions by the national Food and Drug Administration as well as the Drug Enforcement Administration to try and address this exploding public health crisis, but with little success. Today, opioids, including prescription painkillers, remain the leading cause of overdose-related deaths in the United States.

What makes opioids like Oxycontin so addictive?

Opioids like Oxycontin have a high addictive potential due to their unusually powerful interaction with the brain’s reward centre. Opioids stimulate a flood of endorphins, a feel-good neurotransmitter that promotes a sense of relaxation and wellbeing, and relieves the sensation of pain. When the drug wears off, people may be left with a sense of needing more of those effects, and experience cravings. 

Over time, continued use of opioids builds a tolerance, meaning the brain needs more of the drug in order to achieve the same desired effect. This can lead to people misusing opioids by increasing their dosage or the frequency of doses taken, which dramatically increases the risk for addiction. 

Today, commonly abused opioids include drugs such as:

  • Codeine
  • Fentanyl
  • Oxycodone (Oxycontin, Percocet, Percodan, Roxicodone)
  • Morphine
  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin, Lorcet, and Norco)
  • Meperidine (Demerol)
  • Methadone
  • Hydromorphone (Dilaudid)

Why Do Some People Become Addicted to Opioids, But Others Don’t?

Each episode of “Painkiller” begins with gut-wrenching testimony from parents who lost their children to Oxycontin addiction, a painful reminder of the high risks of a drug that was falsely marketed as a safer alternative. While not every person who is prescribed Oxycontin or other opioids will become addicted, the nature of how opioids interact with the brain, along with other factors, are what create the higher potential for addiction.

Researchers have identified several factors that can influence the potential for addiction, and found that the more risk factors a person has, the more likely they are to become addicted to a substance. These factors include things like:

  • Biology – researchers estimate that a person’s genetic makeup accounts for about half their risk of addiction
  • Environment – physical or sexual abuse, trauma, neglect, stress, and peer pressure can all contribute to the potential for addiction
  • Development – the earlier a person begins to use any substances, the more likely their brains are to be affected in a way that increases a tendency towards addiction

If a person knows that they have additional risk factors for addiction, or a doctor is aware of this patient history, extreme caution should be exercised in using prescription painkillers like Oxycontin. 

How do co-occurring disorders impact addiction?

People living with mental health conditions are often at increased risk for addiction as they may turn to substances or behaviours that help them cope with the discomfort of their symptoms. This is especially true for those whose conditions are undiagnosed or untreated, as they may not have access to the specific treatment methods necessary to bring relief and support for their condition. Similarly, those with an existing substance use disorder, including an addiction to cigarettes or alcohol, also carry a great risk for developing additional dependencies. 

What Treatments are Available for Painkiller Addiction?

The rise of the opioid epidemic has also driven an expansion of treatment modalities, with new options seeking to provide a holistic and more effective approach to treating addiction to Oxycontin and other painkillers. Due to the nature of physical dependency caused by opioid use, all treatment must begin with a medically-assisted detox process to safely wean the patient off of the drug.

Detox: The first step of recovery

Opioid-based painkillers require medically-supervised detox in order to safely treat physical dependency before beginning to address the other aspects of the addiction. Stopping these drugs can cause severe symptoms of withdrawal that may require immediate medical intervention. These symptoms can include:

  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
  • Tremors
  • Anxiety, panic attacks
  • Headaches
  • Heart palpitations
  • Seizures
  • Muscle aches
  • Sweating
  • Mood swings
  • Agitation
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Chills 
  • Depression
  • Drug cravings

Contacting a doctor or an addiction specialist is an important first step in creating a safe, medically-supported detox plan to make you as comfortable as possible during this initial stage of recovery. 

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioural therapy, or CBT, is an effective and widely-practiced method of therapy often used for those looking to overcome addiction to painkillers or other drugs. CBT identifies the root causes of addiction, explores problematic patterns of thought and behaviour, and elicits ways in which to constructively address and shift these patterns. As part of this method, clients and therapists also discuss and practice alternative, healthy coping mechanisms for managing stress and dealing with challenging situations to improve resilience and lower the risk of relapse.

Group therapy

Group therapy offers a unique and affirming experience to those in recovery. Surrounded by people with similar challenges and life experiences, participants benefit from informed support, knowledge, and advice from their peers and a skilled, compassionate facilitator. This also allows participants a glimpse into different stages of recovery, helping to broaden a sense of what life outside of painkiller addiction is like.

Medication assisted-treatment

Depending on the needs of the patient, an addiction specialist may recommend the use of medications to supplement other forms of treatment for people who are addicted to painkillers. Medications commonly used to treat opioid use disorders are buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone. These medications should be used only in combination with other therapies, such as CBT, in order to successfully treat all aspects of the addiction. 

Wellness practices

From yoga to jogging to mindfulness meditation, wellness practices help to strengthen the body and provide a healthy outlet for stress and tension. As those in recovery seek to expand their coping mechanisms past substance dependency, engaging in different types of wellness practices helps to find new ways of relaxation and natural methods of boosting mood.

These types of exercises are also critical in addressing and managing chronic pain, which is why many Oxycontin and other opioid users began using prescription painkillers in the first place. By looking at pain management holistically, doctors and other health professionals are identifying more effective and less dangerous ways of helping people improve their quality of life and lessen their pain.

Because there are different factors which contribute to each person’s addiction, personalised treatment plans are critical in accurately addressing root causes of the addiction and meeting the specific needs of the individual. Talking with an addiction specialist is an important first step in understanding what treatment options may be best for you.

Professional, Personalised Care for Oxycontin Addiction at The Dawn Rehab

Professional, Personalised Care for Oxycontin Addiction at The Dawn Rehab

The Dawn Wellness Centre and Rehab Thailand caters to an international clientele of men and women looking to recover from substance use or mental health disorders. Our primary objective is for clients to achieve and maintain long-term recovery by understanding the root causes of their disorder, and equipping each individual with a personalised set of coping tools to use when dealing with life’s challenges. We work closely with each client to develop a customised treatment plan based on their specific needs and goals, and which can be adapted over time.

24-hour Medical Support and On-site Detox

The Dawn offers medically-assisted detox for our clients. Our round-the-clock, on-site professional nursing team carefully monitors clients throughout this process under the supervision of our psychiatrist, who can prescribe medication as necessary to ease withdrawal symptoms. For emergency cases, clients will be immediately admitted to a nearby hospital for further treatment and support.

Options for Long-Term Rehab in Thailand

Clients who choose The Dawn may opt to participate in long-term rehab that focuses on in-depth mental health treatment and further guidance through the continuum of care. This includes detox, addiction and mental health treatment, and aftercare support,  as well as a step-down programme, . Instead of spending four weeks in treatment and then heading home, this rehab model is generally eight  to 12 weeks, and is flexible, all-inclusive and can be extended based on the unique needs of the client.

Licensed by the Thai Ministry of Health, and internationally accredited by the American Accreditation Commission International (AACI), The Dawn offers proven, high-quality care. 

Our staff at The Dawn has many years of experience successfully treating people with substance use disorders. Call us today to learn more about how we can help you overcome Oxycontin or other painkiller addiction and regain control of your life.

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