There is no doubt that there is an epidemic of opioid abuse in our world. The definition of epidemic in the Cambridge Dictionary: a particular problem that seriously affects many people at the same time. This particular epidemic is persistent, brutal and killing indiscriminately. But why is this epidemic not being dealt with like other epidemics?
We live in countries with a great deal of knowledge on how to control epidemic diseases. The World Health Organization states, in their steps to control any epidemic, that the reduction/elimination of the infectious agent from the source is critical. The infectious agent in this case appears to be prescription opioid pain pills. While it doesn’t account for all cases of opioid addiction, it now appears that it is the first introduction for the majority of todays heroin addicts, in America in particular, to their opioid addiction. It used to be a case of addiction being progressive, perhaps starting with marijuana and working up to harder drugs. Now kids are taking bags of oxycontin they find at home, to school, and getting hooked almost immediately.
Several factors have contributed to the devastating, current prescription drug abuse problem. Massive increases in the number of prescriptions written and dispensed, social acceptability and the “a pill for every problem” attitude, along with aggressive marketing by pharmaceutical companies all play a part. But has anyone noticed that there is no eliminating or controlling the source of the epidemic? Have our Governments suddenly been struck with a case of amnesia regarding the control of epidemics? Any attempt at controlling the production of these pills or any regulations on who they are prescribed to is certainly not being adhered to. Of course these pills are essential for some people who have serious health issues and require relief from chronic pain. But it appears the source of the epidemic is still aggressively marketing and producing vast amounts of pills without being held accountable.
And then, there is this article written in The Washington Post yesterday, which left me breathless – and not in a good way.
It starts off talking about the death of Prince and how we shouldn’t stigmatize those who are on maintenance programs to deal with their opioid abuse. Fair enough. I agree with that. I’m all up for breaking stigma of any kind and I’m most definitely all for people making choices which are right for them. Statistics say that maintenance programs are the best way to treat opioid addiction. Except many addicts say that’s not true. It’s a reoccurring problem in addiction recovery, that what the experts say and what the addicts experience, are two totally different accounts of the same issue. Especially when it comes to treatment with medication – and more notably when it comes to treating opioid addiction with other opioid drugs. The article then proceeds into a condoning and normalizing of long term prescription drug use as a means to functional living. This type of thinking is at the root of the problem regarding our drug addiction epidemic.
I am an addict, but have never been addicted to opioids. However, in all my years of writing, research and talking to real people about their opioid addiction, I have never once heard someone say that they lived normal functional lives while on maintenance programs.
One woman I spoke to recently, who was using heroin since she was fifteen told me – “I remained controlled by methadone for 23 years because I was told maintenance was the only effective treatment” she said. “I was told I was a ‘lifer’ that I’d never be free of drugs, and methadone is a drug. I had to search and search for a doctor to help me get off maintenance and finally live a normal life. I can’t remember a lot of my years on methadone. I lived like a zombie.”
Loraine, another long term opioid maintenance patient said – “Methadone kept me sick. I was barely functional on maintenance programs and I didn’t want to live that way anymore.” And there are dozens of stories like these that I’ve come across.
Yet The Washington Post article states that “tolerance and steady dosing mean that patients are not impaired and can drive, care for families and work. What remains is a physical need for the substance to avoid withdrawal.”
Astonishingly the article goes on to equate our dependence on oxygen, food and water being necessary and natural and not harmful, to a dependence on anything not being harmful! And if the consequences of physical dependence are positive, it’s not addiction. I searched for some testimonies of addicts who had gone through some maintenance treatment to get a balanced view of long term maintenance programs. Perhaps I’ve only heard one side of the story and people are living normal, healthy, productive lives on maintenance programs?
However, what I found was many stories of trying to kick methadone, but nothing about living a successful life. I did however find this – The Methadone Perspective from 25 Recovering Addicts – which didn’t change my initial point of view. One account says “I’ve known the people who have been on Methadone for years and years, and the best way I could describe it, is they’ve been given a chemical lobotomy. It’s just another drug that was introduced by the Federal Government to protect the public from addict crime – not to protect the addict from his/her disease.” Jeff B. – Clean 15 years.
Studies have shown that Long-term methadone treatment can affect nerve cells in the brain with a sharp decrease in key signaling molecules, important in learning and memory. Maryland Addiction Recovery Center talks about Suboxone, another drug commonly used for long term maintenance, as an excellent medication for detox. However, it also states that Suboxone does not offer any actual treatment and clearly does not offer a solution for overcoming addiction. Patients complain of horrific bouts of depression. Many claim that the withdrawal symptoms of Suboxone, unlike the intense withdrawal of heroin or Oxycontin, comes in waves and can last for weeks or months.
And to top it all off we have Dr. David Kessler on CBS NEWS saying “FDA has responsibility, the pharmaceutical companies have responsibility, physicians have responsibility. We didn’t see these drugs for what they truly are.”
So all these highly educated experts forgot the mess created as far back as the 1800’s, when they tried to treat alcoholism with morphine and tried to treat the subsequent addiction to morphine with heroin? Years of experience and evidence that show any kind of opioid drug is highly addictive, whether it’s prescribed or not, counts for nothing? Scientists, with the latest technology couldn’t see the almost identical chemical structure of heroin and opioid pills? They didn’t see these drugs for what they truly are? Give me a break!
In an effort to combat the growing epidemic of prescription drug and heroin abuse, the FBI and DEA have released “Chasing the Dragon: The Life of an Opiate Addict,” a documentary aimed at educating students and young adults about the dangers of addiction. It’s something that everyone needs to watch – and actually listen to what the people are telling us.
It’s about time that we all got a reality check regarding the source of this crisis and the fact of the matter is that human lives have no value in the eyes of the corporate world. We are just another dispensable commodity to help rake in cash. I am completely aware that addiction is a very complex disease and there are many factors that influence it’s progression. I’ve dealt with addiction all my life and the recovery from it takes phenomenal work. But why are the same treatments being administered to addicts over and over again despite the devastating effects. Why is legal drug dealing seen as a medicinal practice? And why are we not listening to the addicts? I believe that it was Albert Einstein who said repeating the same behavior but expecting different results is a sign of insanity!