Don't take the risk.

Don't take the risk.

Drug overdoses killed 907 people in Philadelphia in 2016.

Over 15% US adults have used prescription painkillers not prescribed to them.

Nearly 2 million US adults were addicted to prescription painkillers in 2014.

People can experience withdrawal from opioids if they stop after taking them for as little as a week.

People who have never taken opioids can suffer a fatal overdose from just a few pills.

Real people sharing their stories about prescription painkillers:

Butch

Butch

Butch was a successful business owner with assets in the millions. He had two thriving companies, a loving marriage, and a nice home. That all started to fall apart when a doctor prescribed Butch opioids for chronic back and neck pain at age 53. Initially providing a welcome relief from the pain, he soon found he could not stop taking the pills. Without them he developed withdrawal symptoms. He needed the pills not for pain relief or to "get high," but to stop the withdrawal symptoms that were hard to endure.

When his need became more than he could get from his doctors, he turned to the streets as source for pills. According to Butch, he felt, through no fault of his own, that he had gone from a patient seeking help to "a criminal." His businesses collapsed, his wife divorced him, and he lost his house and "nest egg" for retirement. After suffering over three years of managed addiction, Butch checked himself into rehab.

Butch no longer takes prescription opioids, but his addiction is something he struggles with every day. The damage done during his years of painkiller treatment will haunt him for the rest of his life. Butch is sharing his story as a warning to others who may be struggling with opioid addiction. He hopes no one else has to lose everything the way he did.

Destinie

Destinie

Christian was Destinie's uncle, and being only two years apart in age, he was also her best friend. He started "experimenting" with opioid painkillers as a teenager. At the time, Destinie didn't think it was a big deal, "he excelled in everything he attempted athletically and academically."

After Christian's friend was killed, his substance abuse spiraled out of control. Destinie had no idea that Christian eventually began using heroin. Even when doctors told her and her family that he had died of a heroin overdose, only five weeks after the death of his father, Destinie says she still couldn't wrap her "mind around how he went from painkillers to heroin." Then she "realized they're the same thing."

Now, Destinie dedicates her life to fighting the opioid epidemic. She confronts the stigma around addiction. "I'm not ashamed to talk about it. He was sick, he had a disease, and people need to understand that," she says. As an advocate, she hopes that her story will help people to address their own addictions early on. No one, Destinie says, should suffer the fate Christian did.

Evan

Evan

After his brother died of a heroin overdose, Evan was in a motorcycle accident. The doctor prescribed him painkillers, and he quickly became addicted. His life began falling apart. He destroyed relationships, lost jobs, and landed in jail more than once. But he never associated his pill abuse with his brother's heroin addiction. "You're not doing anything wrong," Evan told himself. "The pills are from a doctor."

Soon it took 50 pills a day to meet Evan's cravings. Shortly after, he did the unthinkable, turning to the same drug that killed his brother to feed his habit. Evan knew he had hit rock bottom when he woke up handcuffed to a hospital bed after falling into a coma. He was immediately taken to jail.

It was in jail that Evan says he "found sobriety through faith." Since then, he has re-dedicated his life to helping others as a recovery coach. He hopes his story will be a wake-up call for people struggling with opioid addiction to get the help they need.

Jen

Jen

Jen began taking prescription opioids after the birth of her first child. Before she realized it, what started as a way to manage the pain of cramps spiraled into addiction. Soon Jen found herself stealing from friends and family to support her habit. She knew she had to make a change when she became pregnant with her second child. "That’s not the kind of mother my kids deserve," she said.

Jen believes that her life as a suburban mother was the perfect cover to hide her addiction. "There are millions of us addicts disguised as regular people," she says. "I'm a stay-at-home mom, and I’m an addict." Jen writes about her experience, sharing her story to end the illusion that addiction has a "type." She encourages everyone suffering from the disease to seek the help they need.

Kevin

Kevin

"It all started with the prescription opioids"

We met Kevin on the street in Philadelphia. He had been a "good kid," a strong student and an active outdoorsman. He was on his way to graduating from college when he was prescribed painkillers for a collarbone injury. He became addicted to the pills. Later, he switched to snorting heroin because it was "cheaper, stronger…and readily available." It was not long before he turned to injecting. Now Kevin is homeless.

Missy

Missy

Missy's son Davis was the type of kid that would make any mother proud. He was an athlete, honor student, and senior class president. Like many, Davis was having a hard time transitioning to college and dealing with the stress that is so common to a young adult. He started having trouble sleeping. One sleepless night, he opened the family medicine cabinet and found one of Missy's old opioid prescriptions. He thought they might help ease his restlessness, so he took one. He soon began using the pills regularly. Over the next two years, his opioid addiction worsened. He started using heroin and then died of an overdose.

Missy couldn't understand why her son would ever use heroin. She thought heroin was a drug of the past – not something a bright kid like Davis would ever get into. She now understands the dangerous link between prescription opioids and heroin use. Missy started a non-profit organization to raise awareness and opened a recovery community organization. She wants to help reverse the stigma of addiction and help people in recovery to stay in recovery. Her hope is that people will understand that recovery is real and it happens in communities.

Tyler

Tyler

Tyler received an opioid prescription after a snowboarding injury. His doctor never warned him that the painkillers were addictive. Tyler had no clue the pills would someday lead him to use heroin. Or that his heroin use, in turn, would get him dishonorably discharged from the military. Tyler's life spiraled out of control. Several times he tried and failed to get sober. He spent time in jail. Desperate for an escape from his addiction, Tyler tried to end his own life by overdosing on heroin. Luckily, he survived and realized he needed professional help.

Tyler believes the inpatient treatment center he attended saved his life. Since then, he started working with an organization that helps young people with substance use problems. As an advocate, he helps others battle the same disease he fought for over 15 years. He says his life would be very different today if he had known about other ways to manage the pain from his injury. He hopes his story will guide others to seek alternative methods so they don’t have to walk the same dark path he did.

Wendy

Wendy

Growing up, Ryan was always an athletic, outgoing, and loving son. His mother Wendy knew something had changed when Ryan moved back home after attending college. At school, Ryan had gotten a DUI after a minor car accident. His doctor prescribed him opioids to help with the pain. Ryan's fall into full-blown addiction was swift. He tried several rehab centers and had some short-term success. But his recovery didn't last. Ryan began using again while spending time in jail for his DUI charge.

Ryan overdosed on heroin while on house arrest. First responders revived him using Narcan, but that was the last straw for Wendy. She had two younger children in the house to care for. In an act of tough love, she kicked Ryan out, insisting he get his own place and a job. She hoped getting kicked out would be his wake-up call. Unfortunately, Ryan died from an overdose of prescription opioids and heroin. After his death, Wendy opened a male sober living center in Newtown Square, PA. Wendy also started a parents support group in Radnor, PA, for other parents who have lost a child from addiction. She will always grieve the loss of her son. She shares her story in hopes that others get real about addiction and find the help they or their loved ones need.

907

907 people died from drug overdoses in Philadelphia in 2016, an increase of nearly 30% from 2015.

80%

80% of these deaths involved an opioid, including prescription painkillers, heroin, and fentanyl.

33,000

In 2015, over 33,000 people died from a drug overdose involving an opioid. Nearly half of these involved a prescription opioid painkiller.

15%

Over 15% of adults in the United States have used prescription opioid painkillers when not prescribed to them.

2 Million

In 2014, nearly 2 million adults in the United States were addicted to prescription opioid painkillers.

1 in 4

Up to 1 in 4 adults in primary care who take opioids long-term for non-cancer pain meets criteria for opioid addiction.

People can begin to show signs of withdrawal from opioids after taking them daily for as little as a week.

People who have never taken opioids can suffer a fatal overdose from just a few pills.

Heroin in pill form.

"Prescription painkillers," or "opioids," are drugs that are made from the opium poppy or similar drugs that are made in a lab. Prescription painkillers – such as Percocet, Vicodin and OxyContin – are chemically and biologically similar to heroin. Four out of five new heroin users started by using prescription painkillers.

While prescription painkillers can reduce pain in the short-term, they have many dangerous effects. Like heroin, prescription painkillers make people drowsy, which can lead to car accidents and falls. Regular users can have withdrawal symptoms if they stop. And like heroin, these painkillers can cause someone to stop breathing, which is what causes death in an opioid overdose.

In recent years, doctors have prescribed too many opioids to too many people. Sales of prescription opioids nearly quadrupled in the United States between 1999 and 2010. In 2012 alone, 259 million prescriptions were written, enough for every adult to have a bottle.

Don't take the risk.

Anyone can become addicted to opioids, and anyone can have an overdose. Just because they are prescribed by healthcare providers does not mean that opioids are safe. Follow these guidelines to minimize the risk of addiction and overdose:

  • Never use prescription opioid painkillers that have not been prescribed to you.
  • If your healthcare provider prescribes opioid painkillers to you, ask if there are any non-addictive alternatives to treat your pain instead.
  • Don’t take more than 3 days of prescription opioid painkillers unless you have been instructed to by your healthcare provider and he or she believes the benefit is worth the risk (for example, for cancer-related pain or end-of-life care).
  • Avoid taking opioids with benzodiazepines (prescription medications often used to treat anxiety or cause sedation) whenever possible because this combination makes the risk of overdose much higher. If you are taking both of these medications, talk with your doctor about safely stopping one or both of them.
  • Keep your medicine in a locked cabinet and dispose of any unused medication to prevent use by others.

Need Help?

Help is available if you or someone you know is addicted to opioid painkillers or heroin.

Anywhere in the United States:
Call 1-800-662-HELP for confidential treatment referrals, 24/7.

Philadelphia residents:
Call 1-888-545-2600 if you have Medicaid (such as Aetna Better Health, UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Pennsylvania, Health Partners Plans or Keystone First).

Call 1-215-546-1200 if you are uninsured.