Effects of Addiction on Mesothelioma Treatment

Addiction is a mental health disorder primarily characterized by an inability to control drug use and significant drug-seeking behavior. In the U.S., opioid addiction rates soared for years. Overprescribing of prescription opioids (i.e., painkillers) like oxycodone (brand names Oxycontin® and Percocet®) for people who didn’t need them was one of the initial causes of the Opioid Epidemic.

As a result, some mesothelioma patients may have received too much opioid medicine. A portion of these patients may also have become dependent on their painkillers to feel normal or need more and more pills to feel okay. Over time, physical dependency on a drug can become an addiction to its effects.

Over 11.5 million people in the U.S. reported misusing prescription opioids in 2016* Doctors in Alabama, Arkansas, and Tennessee wrote an average of 1 opioid prescription per adult in the state in 2017 Opioids were involved in 2 out of every 3 drug-related deaths in 2016

*CDC 2018 Annual Surveillance Report of Drug-Related Risks and Outcomes

Addiction Among Mesothelioma Patients

Because they are more likely to receive regular and higher dosages of opioid prescriptions, mesothelioma patients are at risk of developing an addiction. Moreover, older adults – the population most likely to be diagnosed with mesotheliomas – have a higher risk of “accidental misuse or abuse.” Older adults are more likely to have more than one chronic condition and manage multiple prescriptions.

If opioid medication is taken as prescribed by your doctor, it is typically safe. However, taking the prescription in ways that aren’t prescribed (such as more frequently or by crushing and inhaling it) is a sign of misuse. Other signs of potential drug abuse include taking someone else’s prescription opioid or using the medication for its euphoric effects.

Commonly misused prescription opioid drugs include:

  • Codeine
  • Fentanyl
  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin®)
  • Morphine (Kadian®, Avinza®)
  • Oxycodone (OxyContin®, Percocet®)

Some signs of opioids misuse or abuse include:

  • Feelings of euphoria
  • Hypoxia
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Slowed breathing

A fatal risk of misusing opioids is the possibility of overdose and death. Taking too many opioids can overwhelm the body and lead to respiratory failure, brain damage, and death. People with poor health, such as those with mesothelioma, are at greater risk of overdosing from taking too many painkillers.

An average of 41 people died each day from an overdose involving prescription opioid drugs in 2018. Today, your doctor may recommend keeping naloxone (an anti-opioid overdose medicine) on-hand if you’re taking prescription opioids.

Prescription Opioid Restrictions and Shortages

State legislators attempted to reign in the amount of pain-relieving medicine being prescribed to patients and/or sold illicitly with a wave of regulations limiting opioids in the 2010s. Most states updated their prescribing laws that excluded cancer patients from the new limits on certain prescriptions. During a 30 percent reduction in opioid prescriptions over a five-year period, mesothelioma patients simultaneously reported difficulties in getting pain-relieving treatments.

Common pain management medications for cancer patients – like hydrocodone-acetaminophen, a combination-opioid medication used to treat moderate-to-severe pain, and long-acting drugs (like oxycodone) – were restricted. Additionally, new laws reduced the manufacture of certain prescriptions, creating a shortage in the market. The unintended consequence left up to 70 percent of patients who experience pain at risk of being undertreated.

While protecting patients against developing an opioid addiction remains a major goal for states and their health care organizations, maintaining a positive quality of life for those diagnosed with mesotheliomas is just as essential. For more information about managing medical care, sign up for a free mesothelioma guide.

Complementary Pain Management Therapies for Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma patients may need additional or alternative pain management methods if they cannot access pain medication due to state restrictions or a history of drug addiction. Complementary therapies provide additional support to your existing pain management regimen. Alternative therapies are intended to replace other types of therapies and should always be reviewed by your doctor.

Examples of complementary and alternative pain management therapies include:

  • Biofeedback therapy
  • Chiropractic care
  • Massage
  • Meditation
  • Special diets
  • Reflexology
  • Reiki
  • Tai chi
  • Yoga

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