January 15, 2018

The pain medicine Tramadol was prescribed for me recently, to be taken every six hours or according to my need, to suppress the pain attendant to two ribs cracked when I stumbled on a marble threshold after Mass at Our Lady of Prompt Succor Nursing home. Several red flags shot up immediately in my mind. First of all, my having used less than a dozen pain pills in my whole life hints at my innate distrust and disdain for painkillers. That distrust grows as I read more about them.

Unfortunately, painkillers are direly needed by multimillions of victims of severe physical accidents and illnesses such as ruptured or herniated discs, surgery on a blocked carotid artery, cancer excised from a kidney or elsewhere, medication for a 30-percent or more blockage on each side of one’s heart, autoimmune diseases like fibromyalgia rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, systemic lupus, celiac disease, advanced cancer, as well as chronic migraine headaches.

I checked on Tramadol and found that, of all others, The most dangerous drug in the world is the surprising title given to Tramadol. Can you imagine a prescription medication that relieves pain just as well as narcotics like Oxycontin but isn’t addictive? Sadly, that was too good to be true. For years, that was the case with Tramadol, the synthetic opioid drug released in 1995 under the brand name Ultram to great expectations, seemingly offering all the benefits of more powerful, more addictive drugs, but with fewer of the downsides of dependency — at least in clinical trials. This was apparently in part because trials examined Tramadol use by injection, but it is manufactured — and far more potent — in pill form.

The thinking was that, if the drug was unlikely to make people dependent, it was not likely to be abused, unlike other opioid alternatives like Vicodin (also known as Norco), Percocet, let alone be as dangerous as high-potency opioid medications like Morphine, OxyContin, Dilaudid, or Fentanyl.

Therefore, for many years, Tramadol was widely prescribed by doctors as a “safer” alternative to narcotics for pain. The difference between narcotics and opioids is subtle, but opioids are natural or synthetically-made drugs that function metabolically in the body like opium derivatives extracted from the poppy, while narcotics is more often used as a legal term, classifying drugs, like cocaine and other non-opiates that blur the senses and produce euphoria. Unlike other opioid drugs, believing that it had a low potential for abuse, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) did not classify Tramadol as a controlled substance, a scheduled drug.

Because of the FDA’s non-action, Tramadol became a particularly dangerous drug, because it was, in fact, highly addictive and prone to abuse. Because it was easier to obtain and of fewer concerns to physicians, it was more widely prescribed. Tramadol can cause respiratory distress and death when taken in high doses or when combined with other substances, especially alcohol.

My prescription of Tramadol – other brands are Ultram and ConZip – came to me shortly after the hot news warning that opioid usage has become a countrywide, lethal epidemic with overdose rates consistently increasing, coupled with the rate of physicians overprescribing those same opioids. Four Arizona doctors prescribed 6,000 opioid pills in the year 2017. Reckless prescribing of opioids is a great part of the problem that is sweeping the nation at an alarming rate. Of course, overprescribing sundry varieties of opioids keeps the individuals coming back for more, only causing their addictive problems to spin out of control. One person reported receiving 90 50 MG tramadol by mail order, and was very confused since the doctor never mentioned that he was adding or changing anything.

Needless to say, I immediately dumped my Tramadol pills into the trash. It is distressing to read further that Tramadol is among the mildest of opioids, frequently causing opposite reactions from person to person, addictive to some but not others. Opioids are substances that act on opioid receptors in our brain and body to produce morphine-like effects. Medically, they are primarily used for pain relief, including anesthesia. An exhaustive list of opioids from A to Z boggles one’s mind with the troubling figure of several hundred. Only the letter Y has no opioids listed.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), notes, among the estimated more than 64,000 drug overdose deaths in 2016, the sharpest increase was deaths related to fentanyl and fentanyl analogs (synthetic opioids) with over 20,000 overdose deaths. Worldwide, there are between 26.4 to 36 million opioid abusers.

“God is love, and all who abide in love abide in God and God in them.”   (1 John 4:16)