As I was browsing the interwebs early one morning, as most of us do most mornings, I stumbled upon an article posted by fellow Odyssey author Brianna Lyman. The title of her piece “Stop Calling Your Drug Addiction a Disease” caught my attention and I began to read. I acknowledge the argument she provides, as well as agree with it to an extent. However, I do believe that she has some short sited views on the issue of our Nations’s opioid epidemic.
In our wonderful world of modern western medicine, we love to prescribe a pill for literally every problem we can fathom. Hair loss? Take this. Wanna get skinny? Pop this. Got pain? We can fix that with a script. It is in my opinion, and the opinions of many others that we over prescribe medications, especially antibiotics, and opiate based pain relievers. Brianna Lyman seems to focus on heroin in her article, and for a lot of addicts, the opiate pain relief medication is where that addiction starts. Once that prescription runs out, it’s usually too late and the patient is physically dependent on said medication. What happens next, from what I know about opiate addictions is as follows. Said person’s script runs out, so that person, seeking relief from the awful symptoms of withdrawal takes to street corners for their next hit. But pills are expensive. So they resort to the next best thing which is heroin. It’s cheap, it’s available, and it’s making a comeback more successful than My Space when Ashton Kutcher bought it.
In her article, Brianna said “every drug addict made a choice”. Here is where we agree and disagree simultaneously. Are there addicts out there who just decided to tie off, plunge a needle in their vein, and shoot up? Absolutely. They’re the addicts that made a choice. But, for the type of addict I was referring to earlier, they didn’t make a choice, necessarily. In the United States, as I said, we have a pill for just about everything. It’s the way healthcare is in our culture. Doctors write scrips, the symptoms go away, and the real problem doesn't actually get solved. The same thing is happening in the population of drug addicts that inhabit the United States. Those of us who aren't addicts, will never understand the struggle of having a physical dependency to the toxin we call heroin. It’s important that we reserve our judgement here and help those who want it. I regret to say that because of the potency of heroin, because of some unsound rehabilitation techniques, the relapse rate is awfully high. Since “surrendering ones self to a higher power” and trying to work through the 12 step program doesn't exactly work all the time, I do believe that a more radical approach is necessary.
I was listening to NPR one day, many moons ago and they had an interview with an addict. This man was brave enough to go on air and talk about his addiction. He explained how badly the drug was messing him up, how awful he knew it was to him, his family, and those close to him, and badly he wanted to quit. One of his reasons for not being successful in kicking the monkey off his back was the not so good rehab treatment, and the fact that he felt ostracized by just about everyone. He explained that in doing that to addicts, it makes them feel as though the drug and fellow addicts are the only things near and dear to them. He also explained that if you want addicts to quit successfully, you should provide them with clean needles, show them love and support, and fight their addiction with them. Don’t kick them to the curb.
In conclusion, is addiction a disease? I think that is neither here nor there. Calling a physical dependency one name or another doesn't solve the issues of over prescribing opiates, a flawed rehabilitation treatment model, and the stigma that goes along with being an addict. If we are to battle and beat the heroin epidemic, we need to do it together. For example we could try and encourage those who work on Capital Hill to legalize cannabis based pain treatments. We could work to erase the negative stigma associated with addicts, and ultimately make them feel more comfortable approaching us for help. We could put our heads together and create a better rehabilitation program. We could do literally anything so long as we do it together. Brianna Lyman, I hope this reaches you, and I look forward to reading your thoughts.