Addiction Can Start With Painkillers

Volume 116, No. 11November, 2016

Joshua Snow, LCSW
Joshua Snow, LCSW

Joshua Snow, LCSW

The Actors Fund is your one-stop shop for almost any kind of service you can imagine. We offer counseling – both one-on-one and in groups – as well as information on all kinds of social services, including health insurance, housing, substance abuse, financial counseling, food stamps and more. The Actors Fund is open to musicians, actors and all entertainment professionals. All services are free to Local 802 members. Contact us at (212) 221-7300, ext. 119 or or see

Addiction impacts millions of people, including creative artists and their families and friends. In fact, a recent study found that addiction afflicts more Americans than diabetes, heart conditions or even cancer. Substance abuse affects people regardless of their income, occupation, education, race or religion. There are numerous contributing factors to what makes a person an addict, such as genetic predisposition, situational stress, or a history of anxiety, depression or trauma

One of the more disturbing trends we are seeing is the dramatic increase in opiate and opioid abuse. Musicians can be at particular risk. Some use these drugs as a way to deal with performance anxiety or to relieve injuries and pain. Unfortunately, they can quickly become addictive.

Opiates are drugs derived from the opium poppy, while opioids are synthetic drugs engineered to mimic the effects of opiates on our physiology. Opiates and opioids are drugs that engage the opioid receptors in our brain and central nervous systems to elicit pleasure and relieve pain. When they are misused they can be highly addictive and dangerous. Heroin is the most well-known drug in this category, but others include demerol, oxycodone, vicodin, fentanyl, codeine, dilaudid, opium and morphine.

The number of prescriptions written for opiates and opioids has quadrupled in the past two decades. We have seen a corresponding increase in addiction and overdose. In 2014, approximately 38,500 people died from opioid/opiate overdoses. More than half of these deaths can be attributed to the abuse of prescription drugs (as opposed to illegal substances such as heroin).

Consider this scenario. Let’s assume that as a musician, you have a legitiate reason for getting a prescription for one of these drugs. You may feel safe starting out, since your doctor signed off on it. You take your medication as prescribed, but as your pain diminishes, you encounter the more euphoric aspects of the drug and continue to take it recreationally, before beginning a struggle with the more addictive aspects of the drug.

We have also seen a growing trend in which the abuse of prescription opiates/opioids also leads to heroin abuse. As it becomes more difficult or expensive for an addict to procure prescription medications, heroin becomes a cheaper, more easily accessible option. Three recent studies have shown that of the IV heroin users surveyed, more than half of them had begun abusing prescription opiates/opioids prior to beginning heroin use. This trend is set to grow, as the government has cracked down on opiate/opioid prescription.

If you or a loved one is struggling with opiates/opioids or any other substance you are not alone. Help is available through the Actors Fund, which is available to all Local 802 members. Our chief goals are to address your substance abuse in the fashion that best works for you, as well as help your family members, partners or friends deal with the effects of substance use. Support in early recovery can be essential in helping you and your family members:

  • Enter into a recovery process
  • Learn effective coping strategies
  • Take increasing responsibility for managing your life without the abuse of mood-altering substances

Whenever possible, our social workers meet in person to evaluate the person’s substance use. We can also:

  • Organize interventions
  • Explore abstinence-based and harm-reduction approaches to treatment
  • Help coordinate care with treatment programs
  • Work with insurance and managed care companies

Services provided by the Actors Fund are free to all Local 802 members. After we assess your needs, financial assistance may be available to help with the cost of treatment programs and other financial difficulties for you and your family.

Our Addiction and Recovery Services also help to educate and assist industry employers, supervisors, managers, agents, union representatives and others in addressing substance abuse issues in the workplace.

For more information please contact Rosalyn Gilbert, LCSW, supervisor of addiction and recovery services, at (212) 221-7300, ext. 114

Joshua Snow, LCSW, is a social worker in the addiction and recovery section at the Actors Fund. His experience includes working with musicians.