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The Opioid Epidemic: A Curse On The Innocent

While observing a group recovering from addiction, I heard the story of a mother of two describing her process of becoming a drug addict. She’d had a Cesarean section during the birth of her second child. Her doctors had given her opioids to relieve the pain. The prescription was for thirty days. When she took the first pills, her pain went away, but she also felt a warmth and sense of joy.

After the prescription ran out, she asked for more. The doctor obliged. When the second prescription ran out, the doctor refused to refill it for her. But by then she was hooked. For the next two years, she found her high and drugs on the street. Slowly, she sank into a desperate life where all she wanted was the drugs. She stopped being a mother and productive citizen.

She began to loathe herself for who she had become and would scold herself as she took the drugs. She knew she was sinking but was caught in a spiral and unable to break its grip. Her husband and family stepped in and said, “No more.” She had two choices: to leave her family or seek help.

They checked her into a rehab center in Connecticut where she fought to recover. At the time I was observing the recovery group, she had been clean for eight months and had restored her sense of well-being. Now she was scared. She loved who she was and was ready to start her new life, but did she have the strength to continue her recovery on the outside?

I have known other addicts. Some recovered and some didn’t. Those that do recover have a common thread—they all had reached a point where the losses they had experienced were greater than their desire for drugs and their despair. They knew they were addicts, and the rest of their lives would be spent in recovery. They would have to fight off the lure of drugs to have a life.

Most addiction today doesn’t come from the street first. 70 percent of those addicted start with prescription drugs. Today, addiction starts in the doctor’s office. It is a new phenomenon in the fight against drug addiction. The pharmaceutical companies had assured Congress and the medical community that these opioids were not addictive. They have been proven wrong.

The doctors and dentists I know, are very careful with how they write prescriptions. However, the statistics show there is a large number of medical professionals who are not quite as committed to doing the right thing.

Recently, a judge in Oklahoma fined Johnson & Johnson $572 million dollars for their role in the opioid crisis. In a recent segment on CNBC, it was stated that drug companies will eventually have to pay at least $10-15 billion in fines.

Plus, new and more powerful street drugs are now available for those who do turn to the street. Fentanyl has become a new force. It is many times stronger than heroin and far more addictive. Dealers lace many of their drugs with fentanyl to ensure their customers become addicted and to attract even more customers. 90 percent of all fentanyl is manufactured in China.

There are some very discouraging statistics about this new crisis in addiction:
 The leading cause of death for those under age fifty is an overdose.
 For every one hundred Americans, fifty-eight opioid prescriptions were
written in 2017.
 Almost 50 percent of prescriptions are written by primary care physicians
despite new guidelines.
 Every day, 1,000 people are treated in emergency rooms for prescription
 50,000 people will die this year from drug overdose—more than all who die from car accidents or the entire American death toll of the Vietnam War.
 It costs our country $78 billion dollars a year to manage this crisis, a full 10 percent of the national deficit.

The crisis is real and new. It has overwhelmed national care systems and swamped local EMT departments. In some cities, there is an overdose call every hour.

Huntington, West Virginia, is an example of a city in severe distress because of this national crisis. For every one hundred residents of Huntington, eighty-one opioid prescriptions were written in 2017. The police bring a drug counselor to every overdose call. Their citizens are dying at a rate that is three times the national average.

In the 60s, 70s and 80s, drug addiction started by experimenting with drugs in
back alleys.

Congress has enacted new laws, and the AMA has issued new standards, which
will help.

The American Society of Anesthesiologists has issued new guidelines and recommendations for pain relief, especially for those with both acute and chronic pain. They recommend treating pain with non-addictive, prescription-strength medications, such as ibuprofen (Motrin), acetaminophen (Tylenol), and aspirin (Bayer). Physical therapy is also an alternative. In more extreme cases, they recommend acupuncture or even surgery.

There are numerous studies that show that prescription-strength Advil or Tylenol
is as effective in combating pain as opioids.

So, what can we do to help with this crisis? Help those addicted get into recovery services. Write to your local congressperson and state your position. But also be aware that the face of drug addiction has changed. It is no longer just hidden in the dark corners of society; it comes from every part. Listed below are some of the warning signs that can help you determine if someone you care about is addicted:
 Frequently late for meetings or family gatherings
 Unexplained money loss
 Failure to make eye contact
 Disappearance for long stretches of time, even days
 Red eyes and enlarged pupils
 Inability to sleep
 Appearance changes
 Unexplained body bruises, especially on the arms

The American drug scene has changed. It was started by pharmaceutical companies seeking to expand their revenue. These companies had promised Congress that these new pills weren’t addictive, despite the research to the contrary. The collateral damage has been the American public. Thankfully, Congress, the medical community, and our judges are fighting back.