South Africans are becoming increasingly reliant on painkillers

Sara-Jayne King speaks to Dr. Shaquir Salduker, a member of the South African Society of Psychiatrists.

  • The USA has been battling with a prescription drug addiction for decades

  • People become reliant on medication to treat various chronic ailments

  • 1 in 5 South African adults are reliant on painkillers to treat chronic pain

  • 7% of rehab admissions in SA are for prescription drugs

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Prescription drug addiction is a growing problem worldwide and the fastest-growing drug problem in the USA.

The South African Society of Psychiatrists (SASOP) says it's also a trend in this country, with almost one in five adults suffering from chronic pain and up to 7 percent of rehab admissions being for addiction to prescription drugs.

The human body produces the most potent opioid known to man, called endorphins which is thirty times more potent than the morphine drug, and it's endorphins are that determine the human body's pain threshold.

The problem arises when we take pain killers - to the point of being heavily reliant on them, because they suppresses the production of endorphins. Regular use increases the risk of addiction, as the body becomes reliant on it to numb the pain, because of a lack of naturally-produced endorphins.

Dr Shaquir Salduker says many people begin using prescription drugs to treat chronic pain, but become reliant on their usually calming effects and the general sense of well-being they provide.

It's a spectrum issue. We have codeine on the one end of the spectrum and heroin on the other, but it's the same thing. It attaches to the same receptors in the brain.

Dr. Shaquir Salduker, member of the South African Society of Psychiatrists

Whether you're on oxycontin, or fentanyl which is an anesthetic drug or morphine or codeine, it's basically the same as heroin.

Dr. Shaquir Salduker, member of the South African Society of Psychiatrists

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People start off taking painkillers for a legitimate issue, but the painkilling effect is just one aspect of it. The sense of wellbeing, the sense of relief of anxiety and uplifting of the mood and improved sleep at night are all the other hidden factors that step into the picture. Then instead of using it for pain, you start using it for all these other things.

Dr. Shaquir Salduker, member of the South African Society of Psychiatrists

Listen to the audio for more.

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