Playing With Fire
Prescription medication is one of the biggest double-edged swords of our time. Countless previously incurable diseases can now be cured or at the very least averted with a simple meeting with a doctor and a trip to a pharmacy. Living in crippling pain is no longer a grim certainty, and those who could not muster the courage to leave their homes can now find a tool to help them lead healthy, functional and fulfilling lives. If our description stopped there, we would be living in a medical utopia; but sadly, dependence on pharmaceuticals can all-too-often lead an individual to a worse place than where they started.
It’s a slippery slope. Prescription medication doesn’t carry the same stigma that alcohol, marijuana or any number of colorful illicit consumables that come up when someone murmurs, “Substance abuse” do. It is, after all, a medication, prescribed by a medically licensed professional, who clearly has your best interests in mind. While all of these things might be true, the lines start to blur once scheduled narcotics, sedatives and amphetamines get thrown into the mix.
An Unwitting Introduction
One of the biggest issues in recent history are cases of unwitting parents providing an easily accessible introduction to the world of recreational substance abuse inside their poorly monitored medicine cabinets. Anti-anxiety drugs, painkillers, and easily obtainable stimulants marketed as focus aids can introduce a younger demographic to psychoactives with a much higher rate of addiction than alcohol or marijuana. Once a user wants a repeat experience, all that is needed is a few hours of time and some carefully chosen words with a doctor. 52 million people over the age of 12 have used prescription drugs non-medically in their lifetime.
While most wait until high school to experiment with recreational psychoactives, the legal age restrictions on alcohol and medical marijuana make it at least somewhat difficult for minors to obtain regularly. However, a person of any age can be prescribed painkillers for anything from bronchitis to a broken femur. Why are we expecting young people to have mastery over impulse control when they have had little to no experience with the substances in question? Prescription pills are fueling a new wave of unlikely addicts, as simple pain relief leads straight to the clutches of heroin. Deaths from opiate painkiller overdose have tripled in the past decade alone, prompting investigation and legislation alike to fix the obvious contributors to the problems; questionable doctors and pharmaceutical fraud, but expecting these to be lasting solutions to a growing problem is simply not enough. Investigating the over prescription of opiates is a slippery slope, because the tools we are using to stop potential abusers also affect those who are in legitimate need of opiate pain management.
The Thin Line between Relief and Abuse
Separating those who are abusing the system from those who genuinely need it is no easy task. There is no magic algorithm that shows who is faking an injury; instead these cases are dealt with on a case by case basis, with only the worst offenders throwing up enough red flags to get noticed. These offenders are then dealt with as criminals, clogging an already overcrowded penal system instead of being given help and rehabilitated. While addiction in of itself is not necessarily a moral deficiency, the addict is responsible for his or her recovery. Some may get addicted from taking their prescribed medication as directed, and others might get addicted from abusing their medication, but the outcome is the same, no matter how socially deviant the user’s behavior is, it is commonly driven by a need for pain relief, either emotional, physical, or spiritual.
This desire for relief is further justified via the prescription of the substance from a certified medical professional, and while the pain itself may take different forms, it all stems from an inherent discomfort that the user finds unbearable. Tackling the root of these problems come with their own difficulties and an intensive commitment to breaking old habits and fostering new ones.
But what about people who are in chronic physical pain? People who would not be able to go about their daily lives without an opiate-based painkiller? Cancer patients, car crash survivors, and burn victims can benefit greatly from opiates, and can find that their quality of life improves drastically, until an ever increasing tolerance brought on from chronic and repeated use leaves them heavily dependent on the drug. How do we determine when a pain-management patient needs to kick the habit? It’s simple; do the opiates objectively improve the quality of the patient’s life? If the answer is yes, then many pain patients find that switching medications or asking their medical practitioner for help can be enough to get a handle on their chemical dependence. It should also be noted that the necessity of opiates will be vastly different between a patient with stage 4 leukemia and someone with a slipped disk who fell off their motor scooter at Wal-Mart. The medicinal pain-relief business is a multi-billion dollar industry, and sadly we live in an age where a bad cough or a sprained wrist is all someone needs to be prescribed opiate-based medications.
The introduction to opiates from a broken arm or a minor car crash is all a potential addict needs to start down a slow and long downward spiral. People who would have never taken opiates in their life if it wasn’t for getting kidney stones, or getting hit by a car, can find themselves in the grip of addiction faster than they ever imagined. The facts of the matter are, that opiate based painkillers are a gamble, period. Following medical instruction and being aware of the dangerous allure of opiates can help the user experience relief without falling into a cycle of dependence. Being aware of the presence of an addictive personality and having an open dialogue with their doctor can prevent further problems down the road.