Prescription Drug Addiction

Drug addiction has a long history of romanticizations. Jazz musicians used to take drugs in order to emulate their musical heroes, according to a Sonny Rollins interview I read a long time ago. In Hollywood movies over the last decade, we’ve seen a more grim romanticization of drug addiction as a tragic, yet beautiful, horror—something like the way tuberculosis was portrayed in artistic circles in the 19th century, actually.

But I’ve never seen a movie about someone addicted to prescription drugs that was played out this way. Sure, this problem’s been around a long time, and it gets nods in the media from time to time—a character in the film The Hours comes to mind, as I seem to recall a 1950s housewife being addicted to sleeping pills. (I could be remembering wrong, or thinking of another movie, I’m not sure.) But the scarcity of even the mention of this issue isn’t surprising.

People popularly think that being addicted to prescription medication isn’t a bad thing. “It’s legal, after all, and they’re not hurting anyone else…” is a common enough response. But this situation isn’t stable. It’s been in flux the last few years, and not in a good way:

Though use of illicit drugs has held relatively stable, prescription-drug abuse has risen dramatically in the past few years. Indeed, only the illegal use of marijuana is more prevalent today. Although abuse is rising among all age groups, officials are especially concerned about abuse among teenagers: One in 10 high school seniors has tried the painkiller Vicodin without a prescription, and 1 in 20 has taken the potent pill OxyContin.

Since this kind of addiction is on the rise, it’s worth thinking about whether this is actually acceptable or not.

I can hear people saying, “Yes, but there’s alcoholism! There’s cigarette addiction! There’s…”

There is. And the fact that it’s so damned difficult to actually wean whole societies off cigarettes that we’ve long known are connected with several kinds of cancers, or teach them to be responsible drinkers (something proven by drunk-driving accident statistics worldwide) should tend to suggest to these people that a whole new set of drug problems are not something we need to add to the mix. Do we really need even more problems?

“But it’s legal…” I suspect that doctor-shopping and prescription-trading actually is not legal. If it technically is, it should not be. But more importantly, it’s too expensive to allow in most countries that have medicare of any kind. It’s surprisingly easy to do, I can attest to that fact because of two things: when I visit doctors here in Korea, no record seems to be made of other visits to other doctors in my health care coverage booklet—even though there is space for it. Furthermore, nothing seems to comes up in the computer system of the pharmacists I visit about the medication I’m already on, because I normally choose to inform the pharmacist of other medications I’m taking, such as sin or asthma medications, to find out whether there might be possible conflicts. So I get the impression, first of all, that nobody’s looking. Second of all, I have seen things that lead me to believe doctor-shopping is actually practiced by some people living here. It’s not definite in the sense that I have any proof, or that I’m 100% sure… I’m not, but it’s a pretty safe bet. And if they are practicing it, one of the things they’re doing is leeching off the health care money of the whole populace. This selfishness in itself is something that is unconscionable, though of course one could make the same argument of those who choose not to quit smoking, choose to drink without cessation, choose to eat fattening foods which will give them expensive health problems down the road.

But there are other reasons to believe the fight against the prescription-medication addiction underworld is important and worthwhile.

  • It profits drug companies through illegal means. These companies already have a massive amount of money, and a massive amount of power. Now, they are enjoying absolutely legal profits through the illegal use of their product, and regardless of the welfare of those who are using those substances.
  • It sets a precedent that people who are medicated in potentially radically mind-altering ways are leading acceptable lifestyles. Not that people on these kinds of medications see spiders crawling all over the walls, or talk to cartoon dragons in the bathroom. But their drug-altered perceptions of the world are very likely to be increasingly disengaged from things that matter to their quality of life, just as with most other cases of addiction. They certainly are too busy securing their next fix, and the one after that, to worry about politics, whether local or national; they are unlikely to pay attention to news, will be easier to manipulate as a group, and more malleable in their responses to the news that is fed to them. Anyone who is concerned about freedom in a society should be profoundly disturbed by the possibility that this adds yet another barrier to an informed, self-determined society; it is, in fact, another barrier to democracy, and at the same time adds a path-of-least-resistance straight down an already-slippery slope towards a blissfully ignorant society of workers.
  • Having known some people in this kind of situation, which let me reiterate is like any other situation of addiction, I can attest that it is a pitiful mode of existence. The fact that this is on the increase, and that the general public either knows nothing about it, or, on spurious grounds, tacitly approves of it—saying, I’m sure, Well, at least it’s not marijuana…—is troubling. It’s the floodgate to yet another pervasive problem that I suppose our grandchildren will have to deal with. Who’s going to repair the environment and repair the devastated economies and polities of the world? It’s not going to be us, of course. It’s up to those who have no vote in the way we run our affairs: our descendants. And they’ll have enough on their plate without having to deal with mass numbers of pathetic junkies strung out on a whole pharmacopeia of highly addictive neuromedications, stumbling through their mediocre days doing half-assed work at their jobs. Mediocre isn’t going to cut it, not the way we’re stacking the jenga tower these days.

Let me be clear: I’m not criticizing the addicts themselves; though I don’t fully agree with the “addict-as-victim” mentality, I also don’t fully agree that we can expect everyone to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. People need help if they are to help themselves. But the biggest help we can give them is to prevent their condition; making the practice of doctor-shopping would be more difficult if we tracked who was given which prescriptions by whom, in a secure, centralized computer system that all pharmacies were connected to, where people doing this kind of thing could be automatically flagged by the easy-to-spot telltale prescription patterns. This would not prevent their selling off meds, but it would choke off the supply.

Next, people need to be made aware of this. It’s a small problem now, but rest assured it will be a much bigger one in a generation or two. The most important issue, it seems to me, is that this kind of addiction must not become socially acceptable, like cigarette addiction seems to have become. Smoking is a filthy, stupid habit, and mass numbers of people do it despite all we know about its effects. Why? Because no matter how much we know, it’s socially accepted and retains an aura of acceptability and even coolness. Now, I doubt that ‘scrip meds addiction will ever be seen as “cool”, but it most certainly is well on the way to being acceptable. That acceptability needs to be smashed, as soon as possible.

Finally, some responsibility on the part of drug manufacturers must be assigned. If they can design pills that can target specific neuromedications, they can probably also engineer medications like the ones they’re now selling, which are much less addictive. If they complain that the research costs money, we remind them that they are making plenty off this very problem, and that their research into addiction will probably prove fruitful on other fronts; perhaps they can even develop powerful medical treatments for other forms of addiction. It’s crucial that the drug companies not get off without a hitch, like the other legalized industrial addiction-manufacturers of the world—the cigarette and alcohol companies and the fast-food chains—have thus far done. They are part of the problem, and they’d damn well better be part of the solution.

link via Kat Feete.

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