Let me preface this blog by saying that the following observations are my opinion and not those of the Step Denver organization. Let me also say that these opinions are formed from years of working with those suffering from opiate addiction and learning how they began their downward spiral into addiction.
The Colorado Health Institute released its updated overdose death data for the State of Colorado. The report may be found here: www.coloradohealthinstitute.org/research/death-drugs. Obviously, the numbers are alarming. And it seems there is no specific demographic of individual that make up the majority of those overdose deaths. It does not seem to be economic, cultural, educational, racial, or geographical. The epidemic seems to affect all who have been introduced to the substances. How then are people, who would seem to otherwise know the dangers of becoming physically and psychologically addicted to these drugs, being exposed to these substances?
This is where the opinion part kicks in. Listening to stories from mothers, students, athletes, business people, and many others of whom you would never expect to be addicts, I hear a common theme again and again – “I was prescribed opioids for pain, and I liked the effect produced by those drugs.” In almost everyone of those stories, the individual progressed from opioids to heroin when they could no longer get their prescription filled, moved to purchasing the pills on the street, and then were introduced to heroin by their dealer who explained that it was cheaper and that they would get more bang for their buck. Another common story is the high school student who begins taking pills at parties. Prescription medication has become easy for teenagers to get from their parents or grandparents medicine cabinets. Teens are at the age when they are experimenting with mind altering substances like alcohol and marijuana, and pills are just another thing to try. They never think that they might become physically addicted. Actually, they are teens, they just never think. I certainly didn’t, nor did my friends or others at my school. We were just lucky that we did not have access to these pills in the way that today’s teens do.
The prevalence of pain medication and its availability in our society has exploded. What was once developed and administered to only those patients in the most severe pain, usually in hospice situations, is commonly prescribed for everything from a toothache to a broken wrist. Our threshold for pain, as a society, has dropped dramatically. It is systemic with a number of other cultural issues that I will not go into in this missive. So, who’s really to blame? I do not believe that it is our doctors and dentists. While they may have some part in the prescribing, it is my opinion that they are truly just trying to make their patients feel most comfortable and are using the tools that are available to them. My question is, should those pills be available for consumption in the first place? Big Pharma has done an amazing job of marketing and distributing substances that they know are both physically addictive and euphoria producing. Which is a bad combination, as we have seen. When something feels good, I want more. When I take more and get physically addicted, I need more. And the cycle begins. It is difficult for me to believe that multi-billion-dollar corporations with the world’s best chemists have not been able to develop a pain reliever that produces no euphoria and is not physically addictive. Or have they? While I am not a scientist, or a doctor, it is just very hard for me to wrap my head around what seems to be common sense. Why would they stop making, marketing, and distributing a product that has a guaranteed continued use case scenario? They wouldn’t. Like a drug dealer, it’s about the money. And how do we look at the drug dealer? Like a business person who is just providing a product to meet a demand? No. We look at them like a criminal that is causing harm to our society. So why is Big Pharma any different? Because its legal. Because its taxable. Because it is clinical. And until we as a society are not ok with that any longer, this problem will continue. It starts with the producer. The war on drugs needs to start here, in the United States, with our corporations.
Paul L. Scudo is the Executive Director of Step Denver and is in recovery from the disease of addiction.