We have been immersed recently in the opioid crisis, with headines of drug-fueled overdose deaths. Behind the headlines are the continuing stories of degradation, crime, disease, prostitution and murder. Addicts, some of whom became hooked first on prescribed pharmaceuticals have swollen the ranks of the homeless, the incarcerated and the dead. If you have an addicted friend or family member and are looking for solutions, you may pray for that person to be arrested, convicted and jailed, as that can seem preferable to a life on the streets and death in an alley by overdose.
There are several outcomes for drug addicts. One is death by overdose, often caused by the addition of Fentanyl to the mix, which is 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine. Death by overdose is also inherent in the very nature of opioids, which require increasing amounts of the drug to get high. The addict chases the high and increases the dosage until he or she suffocates from suppressed respiration.
Another outcome is detoxification to a drug-free condition, through a variety of methods, one of which is “cold turkey” or an abrupt cessation of the drug, with medical oversight as the addict goes through withdrawal. In the case of heroin withdrawal, for example, the body cramps, the addict experiences nausea, sweating, insomnia, and other side effects. It’s like a very bad case of the flu that gets worse and worse for about four days, then gradually tapers off. Other detoxification programs gradually reduce the amount of the street drug for a longer but less painful withdrawal.
Another outcome is continued use. So-called “harm reduction” facilities support the addict who continues on street drugs by providing an arrest-free location, clean needles, medical oversight, counseling to try to persuade the addict to enter treatment, and naloxone injections in the event of overdose.
Yet another option, very popular these days, is “medication assisted treatment” (MAT) through which the street drug is replaced by another drug which has no high, and which blocks the pleasurable effects of the street drug. Such a drug as Methadone lasts about 24 hours, and so those on methadone maintenance must go to a facility once a day for their fix. The fix is legal, and maintenance eliminates the need to commit crimes to obtain money for street drugs, as most often the program costs the addict nothing.
MAT INCREASES THE DRUG SUPPLY AND PHARMACEUTICAL PROFITS
While MAT may seem like a slam dunk for dealing with addiction, it, like the medications employed, has some very unpleasant side effects.
First, it increases the drug supply rather than reducing it, and benefits the pharmaceutical industry. Heroin use has doubled between 2007 and 2012, for example, and while the nation has suffered a crisis of addiction, lost productivity and death, pharmaceutical companies have garnered huge profits, with state Medicaid spending approaching a billion dollars in 2016 for MAT drugs Buphenorphine, Naltrexone and the overdose medicine Naloxone, with worldwide pharmaceutical income in 2016 of more than a trillion dollars, up from less than $500 billion in 2001.
Pharmaceutical opioid painkillers promoted as “non addictive” have flooded into America’s cities and towns, and people hooked on those pharmaceuticals have transitioned to cheaper street heroin. So now, with MAT, heroin addicts are switched to opioid pharmaceuticals such as methadone and newer drugs and the pipeline has been from pharmaceuticals to street drugs back to pharmaceutical maintenance drugs. In Maine in 2012, two thirds of all the opiate-addicted infants born were addicted to methadone, and of 11 sudden-infant death syndrome babies, eight were addicted to opioids.
Pharmaceutical drugs and street drugs are alike in one important respect: they were all invented developed, promoted and sold by big pharmaceutical companies. Merck pioneered the commercial manufacture of morphine, for example, and Bayer later synthesized heroin as a supposedly less addictive substitute for it. Sandoz created LSD, Merck distributed cocaine and invented MDMA. OxyContin which launched the current “opioid crisis” was created by German scientists and promoted falsely as a non-addictive opioid pain reliever by Purdue Pharma. Crystal meth was first created in Japan and after World War II Abbott Laboratories won FDA approval for the drug as a remedy for alcoholism and weight gain. Fentanyl, responsible for the majority of opioid overdose deaths, was invented by Janssen Pharmaceutica. And while painkillers are a necessity for severe and debilitating pain, their explosive use for minor aches and pains has benefited the pharmaceutical bottom line and created a wave of addicts.
GIVING UP THE FIGHT
Along with the lie “The war on drugs has been lost,” has come increasing social acceptance of drugs and drug use. Instead of fighting marijuana, for example, states have begun legalizing it for recreational use. In Oregon, possession of small amounts of heroin, methamphetamine, and the like have been decriminalized, and various organizations are now working to legalize psychedelic drugs, promoting LSD for example as a solution to crime, mental illness, PTSD etc.
Now, addicts on MAT are a protected class of citizens and qualify for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Workforce Investment Act (WIA). They do not as yet quality for Social Security Disability payments. Lawsuits have been filed against jails who do not allow MAT, even though inmates would normally be drug-free during their incarceration.
Driving the change from addiction as a bad choice to a “lifelong brain disease,” are psychiatrists, busy with their agenda of control and profit, labeling drug addiction as an incurable brain disease requiring lifelong treatment, a medical condition brought on by stress and genetics. “It’s not your fault,” may be a good-intentioned effort to encourage an addict to get help, but it removes any responsibility, any sense of culpability for the condition and as such opens the door to a sense of entitlement.
Left in the dust of all this “medicating and assisting” are the programs that detoxify addicts back into a drug-free life. Since they are not supported by the government, most are comparatively expensive, and many have waiting lists.
Once the drug cravings have abated, and the person is drug-free, he or she needs social and economic support to learn to live a drug-free life and turn away from former patterns. MAT it is claimed, allows the addict to live a normal life, but what is normal about standing in line once a day for the rest of your life, waiting for a dose of opioids? That is undoubtably preferable to dying of an overdose in a filthy alley, but is that now our standard? Surely we can do better.