With the recent deaths of Corey Haim, Brittany Murphy, and Michael Jackson, most psychotherapists and physicians, who may not necessarily work in addictions, are becoming more mindful of this growing epidemic of pain medication addiction. Yesterday the Los Angeles Coroner’s Office determined that Simon Monjack, the husband of Brittany Murphy, died from acute pneumonia and severe anemia, which were the same two conditions that caused his wife, Brittany Murphy’s death. Although no illegal drugs were found in Brittany’s system, she had elevated levels of Vicoden and drugs from over-the-counter cold medicine in her system. In her husband’s case, they found some prescription drugs in his system, as well.
Was this another case of multiple doctor shopping? There are many doctors abusing the system by prescribing painkillers rather than referring clients to pain clinics, not initiating drug histories, or finding alternative treatments. This, of course, can lead to addiction if these painkillers get into the wrong hands. The other danger is mixing painkillers with psychotropic medications. The combination can be lethal.
As a psychotherapist who specializes in addictions, I have been aware of this pervasive problem for years. In most cases, I tend to believe my clients are exhibiting “drug seeking behavior” when they are visiting doctors or emergency rooms more often. Overmedicating can also bring on the addiction for someone who has been clean and sober for many years. There are too many abuses of the system both by doctors and their patients, which is obvious as seen by the recent deaths of celebrities from this fatal disease. Working on Celebrity Rehab again is another reminder for me of the pervasive problem of addiction in our society. These celebrities are getting the treatment they need, but what about the countless others who are not celebrities that are in the grips of their disease and are not seeking help?
If you think someone is abusing the system and is showing signs of drug seeking behavior, start noticing if he or she is making decisions that don’t align with his usual behavior and is using the medication to deal with emotional pain or to cope with stress. Notice if he or she is not taking the medication as prescribed. Is he or she less present in their relationships at home or at work? Are you seeing this person putting him or herself in situations that can cause danger to others such as driving when medicated? Be aware if this person is suddenly seeing new doctors or visiting multiple pharmacies and finally, is this person needing refills way before the prescription is up? Look for the signs and symptoms and perhaps you can be an advocate for him or her in receiving the proper treatment and saving someone’s life or perhaps your own if you can relate to this blog.
Sherry Gaba, LCSW, is a Psychotherapist and Life Coach and author of “The Law of Sobriety: Attracting Positive Energy for a Powerful Recovery.” will be out. She is the Life Coach and Psychotherapist on Celebrity Rehab on VH1 and presently is filming Celebrity Rehab 4.