Last March, I had a hip operation which required two days in the hospital. When I checked out, I was given a two-week dosage of OxyContin, an opioid. I was wary of taking it because of anecdotal stories of possible addiction. Good move, it turns out.
What is bothersome is that I didn’t ask for pain medication. The reason I was handed it as I left? Well, the hospital makes a lot of money on drugs dispensed to patients.
When I looked at my hospital bill later on, the drug portion was almost $2,000. I get that; they are out to make a profit. But what I don’t get is that there was no effort to caution me on the possible addictive effects of OxyContin.
Last week, my dear friend, Paula Rinehart published an article in the Federalist titled The Opiate Epidemic is Coming to a Suburb Near You. It struck a nerve because Paula is not one to write about that kind of topic. She is a trained therapist who has seen the ravages of the epidemic in her own practice in the past year.
Her article reviews a book she describes as groundbreaking titled Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors and the Drug Company that Addicted America, by Beth Macy. The book chronicles how this crisis came about in 1996 when the FDA approved the sale of OxyContin made by Purdue Pharma.
An internal Justice Department report shows that Purdue Pharma knew its opioids were being widely abused. They knew it and concealed it, much as cigarette manufacturers concealed the evidence of a link between smoking and cancer for years.
No surprise that Purdue Pharma and members of its founding family are being sued by 38 states.
If that was not enough, a recent article linked payments by drugs companies to doctors. From 2013 to 2015, drug companies made 435,000 payments to 67,500 doctors in 2,200 counties totaling $39 million. The payments weren’t for research, but were for consulting, travel and meals.
In the counties where these payments were directed, deaths from opioids were nearly 18% higher than others. The data also showed that payments by drug companies targeted “counties with more high school graduates, greater unemployment, lower poverty, higher median household income, and lower income inequality.”
The drug industry has falsely marketed a two-week supply of OxyContin as “not addictive”. Unfortunately, that’s wrong. It shocked me to learn that the pain medicine handed to me when I left the hospital was easily sufficient to cause addiction. I feel lucky, in hindsight, for not taking it.
I am willing to bet that most of the people who read this post know of someone in their sphere who has died of an overdose of an opioid. The brother-in-law of our worship leader – a 29-year-old young vibrant man with a bright future ahead of him – recently died of an overdose.
Statistics bear all this out. Almost 122,000 people a year die of opioid overdose. In the U.S., the number was 72,000 in 2015, up from 49,000 in 2015. Over half died from prescription opioids. The rest were from heroin or fentanyl.
As Paula notes, the drug companies promoted their product as “safe” with an addiction rate of 1%. Unfortunately, unbiased studies show the addiction rate is closer to 57%.
This epidemic is no longer an urban phenomenon. It is in the suburbs – small towns rather than large. That’s where the younger generation has money to spend, and Christian families are not immune.
As Paula says: “Those in the know claim that suburbs are where you find the best heroin now”, including her own neighborhood where a police SWAT team recently surrounded a house of a neighbor who had a thriving mail order business selling fentanyl and Xanax.
One other thing she notes: Withdrawal from addiction can be ugly. Recovery can take 5 years and relapses are common, even when using a medication which suppresses the withdrawal symptoms such as methadone.
The issue is not just in North America, by the way. Western Africa, Europe and Asia also have problems according to the World Drug Report for 2018 by the UN. The Report also notes that the most vulnerable population is the next generation:
“Most research suggests that early (12-14 years) to late (15-17 years) adolescence is a critical risk period for the initiation of substance use and may peak among young people (aged 18-25 years).”
One other note: according to the UN report, those aged 50 and higher are one of the fastest growing demographics to be affected by this epidemic. Mentors and parents are not exempt.
One tangible step for everyone reading this is to go clean out your medicine cabinet of any pain medication. This might seem simple, but the fact remains that it doesn’t take a lot of OxyContin to cause addiction.
This is an issue affecting the next generation, and it is important to understand how it happens and how to deal with it. It is a crisis, and, as Paula notes, it’s in your neighborhood whether you know it or not.
MENTOR TAKEAWAY: Mentors should educate themselves on opioids and their addictive qualities. This is happening everywhere, even possibly to your mentee who is in the most vulnerable group.
FURTHER STUDY: The Opiate Epidemic is Coming to a Suburb Near You. Paula Rinehart in The Federalist.
The link between payments by drug companies to doctors and deaths from Opioids.
The Economist: West Africa’s Opioid Crisis.
Statistics on drug use by the UN: World Drug Report 2018.
Beth Macy’s book Dopesick is available at Amazon.
WORSHIP: Listen to Enoughby Passion which has the lyric is All I have in You is More than Enough for Me.
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