By now, even the average American is aware that over the past ten or so years, a scourge has swept over our nation. I’m referring to the scourge of drug addiction. This is probably because many people know at least one person who is struggling with such an addiction, or at least know someone who knows such a person. Our politicians have noticed too and have proposed laws at both the state and federal levels to deal with this crisis.
While opioids and cocaine are the two biggest drug addictions outside of marijuana and alcohol (more people now die from opioid painkiller overdoses than from heroin and cocaine combined), there are many other kinds of drugs that have also seen increases in use and abuse, such as benzodiazapenes and stimulants, among others. But in this diary I want to focus on the abuse of prescription drugs, particularly painkillers, because I believe that is the biggest addiction we face in this country and the hardest one to solve due to the ease of access to such drugs and the fact that they’re legal with a prescription. According to one poll done by CVS (my former employer), 41 percent of respondents said they know someone who has abused or is abusing prescription drugs. That’s almost half of a country made up of over 300 million people.
Needless to say, the consequences of having this many Americans addicted to drugs are vast and unprecedented. Not only is it draining our resources in both the public and private sector, but it’s destroying entire communities, where in some places at least one person in almost every family is addicted to drugs. It’s taking people out of the workforce and ruining their health, which we end up paying for either through Medicare or disability payments, which continues to skyrocket in terms of the number of people on the rolls. More importantly, it’s destroying the social fabric of the nation and the bonds between family members and neighbors, who now are consumed with either taking care of these addicts or trying to avoid them altogether so their habit doesn’t rub off on them and the ones they love.
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There are many factors to discuss when talking about the drug addiction epidemic. I believe the following causes are the roots of this epidemic, and until they change, we won’t be able to stop this crisis in its tracks:
1) I believe the breakdown of the family is the root cause of why so many are drawn to drugs in the first place, particularly in poorer communities with few job opportunities and high rates of poverty and unemployment, like the one in West Virginia I worked in while I was a student in college. I remember people telling me there were more people on disability in some areas than there were people who worked, and not all were disabled, they were cheating the system because they saw how easy it was to live off it. In these communities there’s little hope of getting ahead or of having a dignified job and a comfortable life, so people turn to drugs and other things to distract themselves from their loneliness and failures.
2)The breakup of the faith community in our country and the social cohesion it used to create is also to blame. Parents didn’t raise their kids in the faith and don’t go to church nearly as much, so the social bonds that kept people from making bad decisions are broken and often nonexistent in many areas. In my opinion, this is the single biggest factor that led to the rise of Donald Trump, and can explain the anger and discontent among the white blue collar workers who are voting for him.
3) Doctors hand out pain killers like crazy, often at doses that are way too high for patients to handle without becoming dependent and then addicted. I used to work at CVS pharmacy as a pharmacist assistant. Our number one prescription in terms of frequency of prescribed drugs was always for painkillers, most of which are addictive to varying degrees. Family members and friends have easy access to a patient’s painkiller prescription, which they often steal and use or sell on the flourishing black market. There is much money to be made this way, and they often use it to buy illegal drugs, which can be even more addictive than the painkillers.
4)Due to terrible diet and nutrition, kids in these poor communities across the country are more likely to grow up with health problems and unstable brains to begin with due to deficiencies in key nutrients and the damaging effects a bad diet has on the brain. When you combine that with a genetic predisposition to addiction in a certain percentage of the population, it’s a deadly combination that leads to high drug addiction rates.
Solutions to Reverse the Epidemic
1)Doctors need to start screening for addicts and catch them early on, before they get to the later stages of addiction when it might be too late.
2)Crack down on pill mills, where people are getting fake prescriptions for pain medications and selling them in large quantities on the black market to other addicts.
3)In treatment centers, give patients the option to see a therapist or someone trained in cognitive behavioral therapy to re-train their brain and help them break their habit for good. Give them the option to have access to other forms of therapy as well, since it’s often the case that addicts have many deep-seated issues resulting from parental neglect and abuse. They also have higher rates of various kinds of psychological disorders that have never been treated, which are often the driving force behind their need to use drugs to cope with their problems in the first place.
4)Have a dietitian or doctor at the treatment center who gives advice to the patients on what diet and lifestyle changes they must make to stabilize their brains. A big factor in addiction is that the brain of the addict was unstable and damaged to begin with, which is one thing that led him or her to do drugs.
Fixing nutritional deficiencies, getting healthy fats that help the brain work optimally, especially omega 3s, cutting out excess sugar, getting plenty of sleep, and reducing stress to a minimum should be the starting points for all addicts on the road to recovery. Having a well-balanced and healthy diet in general has been shown to help addicts become stable and healthier overall, with fewer road bumps on their path to healing.
5)Have programs in poor communities that give kids direction and a sense of purpose and community. Many kids end up doing drugs out of peer pressure, boredom, or to escape a horrible family situation. We need to give them alternatives that motivate them to be productive and use the talents and abilities God gave them. This would involve mentoring/tutoring programs as well as non-profit organizations that bring in adults who could at least attempt to fill the void in these kids’ lives that was created by missing a parent, or having bad/absentee parents.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services states, “Fatherless children are at a dramatically greater risk of drug and alcohol abuse.”
There is significantly more drug use among children who do not live with their mother and father. Clearly, kids who are raised without a father or in a turbulent environment are far more likely to do drugs, so we must do everything we can both as individuals and as a society to promote marriage and stable, two parent households. There are many policies we can advocate for that help us advance this agenda, such as:
-tax credits for married couples for each child they have
-funding marriage and fatherhood programs in each state
-abstinence and marriage education in schools, along with character development programs for kids
-expanded health insurance coverage for two parent families
-increased funding and incentives for pre-marriage counseling
6a)Promote programs that teach relationship skills. It’s not enough to just advocate for marriage, because marriages will fail if couples don’t have the moral and social foundations to make them work. Often it’s the case these days that they don’t. We must teach young people the interpersonal skills they need to communicate better, to develop virtues and good habits, and to understand and respect members of the opposite sex.
7) Completely change the way we treat pain. Right now, the conventional approach is to give the patient potent pain medications first and see how they do on those. But as research shows, those pills are largely ineffective, have many harsh side-effects, and are very addictive. Doctors should stop using them in most cases, or at the very least, use them as a last resort. The truth that pharmaceutical companies and many doctors don’t want you to know is that there are natural alternatives to treating pain that have been proven to be effective such as:
Low dose Naltrexone, d-phenylalanine, omega 3 fatty acids, trans-cranial electrical stimulation, laser therapy, and more.
Treating obesity, helping people lose weight in general, and physical therapy combined with increased physical activity also would help many people make their chronic pain manageable.
If millions of people started trying these treatments and finding relief from their pain, doctors, as well as the FDA and pharmaceutical companies would lose millions in profits, and they simply aren’t willing to let that happen, at least not without a fight. Most doctors haven’t been taught about what causes pain in the first place, all they’ve been taught is how to recognize it and what drugs to prescribe for it. Those drugs merely treat the symptoms, and often do a bad job at that, but they never address the underlying imbalance and breakdown of homeostatic mechanisms in the body that caused the pain to begin with.
There are many things that cause pain in the body, but some common causes are the following:
- Chronic inflammation- inflammation causes pain, so the more inflamed your body is, the more pain you’ll have. This manifests itself in different ways in different people.
- Elevated stress- this causes chronically elevated cortisol, which leads to a depletion in this hormone over time. Cortisol reduces pain and inflammation in the body, so having low levels of it increases pain and inflammation.
- Endorphin deficiency- Endorphins are the molecules our body produces to reduce pain and make us feel good. When we run out of them, we experience more pain. Doctors need to incorporate treatments into their pain management programs that boost endorphins, some of which are mentioned above.
If doctors used a more holistic and natural approach to treating pain, and targeted these specific problems with their patients, it would make the need for pain medications largely obsolete.
8) Allow insurance plans to cover natural/alternative treatments for pain. Right now they don’t cover most treatments that are seen as “alternative” or “unproven” (translation- they might not have been approved by the FDA, or weren’t created by a pharmaceutical company), and as I made reference to above, there are effective natural treatments for pain that should be made available to anyone who needs them.
9)Change the way we treat addiction. Here again, the conventional system has a one size fits all approach to a health problem that has utterly failed us. Why is it that more Americans are on prescription drugs than ever before, yet rates of the most common and major diseases continue to stay at record levels? If the drugs were working, it would be logical to assume they’d effectively treat patients’ conditions, and we’d expect to see a drop in the rate of most diseases. Instead we see the opposite.
Drugs are the first and often last resort used by doctors to treat addiction, and many of the drugs used for this purpose are just as addictive as the original drug the patient was addicted to in the first place, compounding the problem for them.
Rather than relying so heavily on drugs, we should be advocating for treatments that are both safe and effective in curing addiction. This requires changing the brain of the addict, particularly their broken reward pathways that tell them when they want and expect a reward for something. One promising treatment in this regard is transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS. There are other effective natural/alternative treatments as well.
10)Raise awareness in communities across the country for drug addiction problems of treatment centers in those communities with these programs and expand funding and access to those programs as much as possible.
11)Divert resources from locking people up for drug possession into drug treatment.
12) Create more databases and programs that prevent drug addicts from getting more unnecessary pain medications, both legally and illegally.
13) This last point is probably the most important one. Don’t wait for the gov’t to step in and help people who are addicted to drugs. If you know anyone, even if it’s just by association, who’s addicted, you should step in and help them. Often their brains are too damaged to have enough self-awareness to realize they desperately need help, and thus don’t ask for it. Others have too much pride to ask for help. Still others have been humbled enough to be willing to reach out for help, but don’t know who to turn to, and may not have anyone in their life who truly cares about them.
That’s where we come into the picture. We shouldn’t view it as being nosy or not minding our own business, because if we were in their shoes we’d want someone to step in and help us too, even if we didn’t know that person well. Furthermore, it’s our duty as Christians to help those in need who are less fortunate than us. In the Bible Jesus was asked who our neighbors are, and He said it was anyone who we came in contact with who needs help, as He explained with the story of the Good Samaritan.
We need to start being Good Samaritans to the drug addicts in our communities by reaching out to them and getting them the resources they need for treatment and recovery. We should also stay close to them if they let us and provide the emotional and moral support they need both during and after their treatment for addiction. There is much more the gov’t can do to help reverse the drug addiction epidemic in this country, but we can’t wait around in the hopes that our politicians wake up and pass the right laws. We need to take matters into our own hands and help our neighbors in need. If we do, I believe we’ll begin to win this war for the minds our fellow citizens, and in the process we’ll build stronger communities and bonds that will last a lifetime.