Addiction to opioid drugs such as morphine, heroin, and prescription painkillers is now a global health crisis. It negatively affects the health, social, and economic well-being of all humanity. In 2012, there were an estimated 2.1 million people in the United States addicted to prescription opioids, and an estimated 467,000 addicted to heroin.
With an estimated 26.4 to 36 million individuals abusing opioids worldwide, this phenomenon has been referred to as a “public health epidemic.”
Upon further examination of some disturbing statistics, I now view opioid addiction as a plague that is sweeping across the US and other nations with merciless force.
This plague is unbiased, as it doesn’t care about race, sex, age, culture, income, location, values, beliefs, and any other demographics or psychographics…no one is exempt.
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Our current methods for treating this opiate addiction epidemic are not working. The plague continues to sweep across the nation, people are dying every day, and families are being destroyed.
This can all be stopped. Though opiate addiction will never completely go away, I believe we can significantly reduce the amount of damage these drugs are inflicting on our society.
We didn’t just end up with this problem by chance…we created it. Although there were many things that ultimately led to the current opiate addiction epidemic, I believe we can treat this dilemma in three simple steps.
1. Awareness and Understanding
The first step is for us as a nation to be fully aware that this problem has gotten out of control. The opiate addiction epidemic needs to be all over the news with the same mass coverage that a school or church shooting would get.
We need to have 24 hour news coverage on this epidemic for a few weeks, with experts in the field being interviewed by news reporters on an hourly basis.
Next, these experts need to collectively inform the American public about how opiate addiction affects and disrupts brain chemistry.
Once the citizens of the United States are aware of the opiate addiction epidemic and how it affects brain chemistry, it’s time to implement Step 2.
2. Empathy and Compassion
People that are well-educated about opiate addiction know how hard it is for the addicted individual to stop on their own. Even if the opiate-addicted individual is ruining their life by continuing to take the drug, it can be seemingly impossible for them to quit.
This is because long-term opiate abuse short-circuits brain chemistry.
According to Dr. Kevin McCauley:
“All drugs of abuse work in the reward centers of the limbic brain. This is the part of the brain that handles immediate survival – not long-term planning or anticipation of consequences. In addiction, a defect in the limbic brain changes the addict’s perception of the drug’s survival salience. This is the first part of the mechanism of addiction – the part that is unconscious.
Then, that misperception of the drug experience is sent to the frontal cortex where an emotional connection is made to the drug based on the misinformation received about the drug’s salience. This is the second part of the mechanism of addiction – the drug takes on a conscious meaning to the addict. They love it when it is there. They miss it when it is gone. The drug hijacks the same parts of the brain that handle survival and love. This will have major consequences for behavior.”
To sum things up:
People that are physiologically dependent upon opiates have a very difficult time quitting because their brains literally make the following connection:
DRUG = SURVIVAL
Even though we all know this is not true, the unconscious part of the brain that is responsible for keeping us alive moment to moment believes it.
So once our society is fully aware that opioid dependence is a chronic brain disorder (which can be easily reversed), we can begin to develop more empathy and compassion for the individuals that have gotten into this mess. Which would then lead us to Step 3.
3. Massive Action Plan
Once the citizens of the United States have learned that over two million people have chemically-induced brain disorders, it’s time to make some changes.
Our current styles of opiate addiction treatment, as well as our drug policy (criminalization for personal use), are not working, so rather than continuing to use these same methods, it’s time to go back to the drawing board.
I strongly believe we need to invest the time, money, and other important resources it will take to revolutionize the way we view and treat opiate addiction.
To start this, it would be beneficial to form a panel of addiction experts, and pay them extremely well to put their heads together and work on this project for as long as it takes to unleash innovative brilliance to the realm of opiate addiction treatment.
Though there would be dozens of experts on the panel, here are some people that I would want working on this project:
- Johann Hari – Author of Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs.
- Dr. Kevin McCauley – Gives the most impressive addiction presentation I’ve ever seen, which is available on YouTube.
- Dr. Charles Gant – Author of End Your Addiction Now: The Proven Nutritional Supplement Program That Can Set Your Free.
- Matt Finch (yes, me…in all seriousness) – I know my shi*t!
The opiate addiction plague is going to continue to grow unless we radically alter our perceptions, beliefs, and treatment approaches. If we continue to do what we have always done, we will continue to get the same results.
It’s time for a paradigm shift. I know this is not an easy task, but I believe the strategies I’ve provided could certainly be a step in the right direction.