BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - According to the CDC, deaths involving prescription opioids have quadrupled since 1999.
On Thursday, Dr. Stefan Kertesz with UAB School of Medicine explained how prescription drugs have become so dangerous.
He said that opioid addiction is something most people don't have to worry about if you're taking prescription medication for pain.
But for some people, addiction becomes more common.
"Compulsive use of medication, despite the harm going on their life from it, or craving that medication," Dr. Kertesz said.
He said those are signs of a patient who's become addicted to prescription painkillers.
Dr. Kertesz believes most people take them with no problems and it's effective for their pain. He said addiction is more common in people who have had a previous addiction to a substance and also in young people.
"Like adolescents where it's that first bottle after a knee surgery or dental surgery which leads them to going after it," Dr. Kertesz explained. "So, it has to be special care with young adults."
He says the addiction happens because the patient starts to get certain feelings from the medication.
"The feelings that opioids give a person, it sometimes gives them a sense of relief then they chase that," Dr. Kertesz said.
Dr. Kertesz said addiction and overdosing in patients are things physicians have worried about for a while.
He talks about why physicians at times tend to over prescribe medication.
"We often sought to zero out pain in people who have long-term pain," Dr. Kertesz said. "In the last decade, we did some real harm as physicians by prescribing too much. There were indeed patients who had prior addictions or patients who developed new addictions."
Dr. Kertesz says over-prescribing is something that Alabama physicians are aware of and have addressed over the last few years. He says they've pulled back on how many prescriptions they write.
"Data shows for the last few years doctors have really pulled back on prescribing. There's data from Alabama and national that shows that's the case. The issue is to make sure that as we make this adjustment in our practice, we do so humanely so that we pull back our prescribing in a way that's humane for people who actually need these important medications," Dr. Kertesz said.
Dr. Kertesz gave some warning signs of opioid addiction. They include if you need painkillers to relieve stress or taking them even though you don't have pain anymore.
Also, if you're constantly focused on where you're going to get your next prescription.