Several weeks ago, I addressed America’s opioid epidemic. Increasingly worrisome facts have been revealed since then: Nassau county administrators in New York are considering lawsuits against 19 pharmaceutical companies and five doctors for fueling opioid addiction. A New York doctor faces up to 20 years in prison after allegedly selling four (4!) million opioid pills to fake patients. Headlines have indicated that Ohio’s first responders and police are on the front lines of that state’s opioid crisis. Arizona experienced 191 opioid overdoses and 15 related deaths during the third week of June, 2017.
Headlines elsewhere describe utter disaster: “Express Scripts, the nation’s largest pharmacy benefits manager, sued a principal manufacturer of opioid-overdose treatment in a dispute over $14.5 million in fees and rebates and dropped the drug (naloxone, Evzio) from its formularies. (CNBC via ProPublica),” “People are Hurting Animals to Score Pet Prescriptions,” and “The opioid-overdose epidemic has gotten so bad that handlers for drug-sniffing dogs carry naloxone kits to revive the canines in cases of overdose.”
The addicted population is clearly not handling life effectively. The mental health profession is challenged to address the living hell undermining private lives and society at large. The situation indicates a need to identify the causes of addiction so that they can be dealt with appropriately. Among the questions to be asked, and then answered, are:
- Why are severe emotions arising in a time when technology allegedly simplifies life with digital tools, streamlined processes, improved medical care, advanced educational opportunities, rapid communication options and other “advances”?
- Why are addicts bypassing self-control in preference for quick pleasure aka the absence of emotional pain, failing to mature enough to cope with life without drugs to dull their raging emotions?
- Has respect for, or the practice of, self-restraint aka “maturity” lost its allure? Has the concept of morality been rejected by addicted people seeking quick fixes rather than competence? Can people easily define or recognize the concept of “comportment” or not?
- Do technological advances erode our ability to deal with delays? Has patience ceased to be admirable or desirable? Are people developing an appreciation for of time-consuming processes or not?
- Are peer pressure, mass media and advertising industry efforts to coax consumers to seek instant gratification part of an overall addiction problem?
- Have values such as deferred gratification, mutual and self-respect, and the importance of being trustworthy, reliable people decreased to a disabling degree?
- Has a former social repugnance for the use of mind-altering substances given way to a social acceptance and a social expectation for substance abuse?
- How and when did will-power and/or other empowering attitudes cease to be admirable?
The answers to the questions above and to related issues such as “Why not?” will point to curative plus preventative thoughts and actions.
In order to repair the physical, emotional, and social harm of addiction, though, US society at large must contend with the brain’s pleasure center. Nurturing it to excess used to be socially repugnant. Specific values were responsible for that. But those values eroded. They continue to erode as standards for behavior break down in the wake of terse online messaging mechanisms, the ease of expressing hostility and the increasingly difficult job of monitoring private or public behavior. An increasing acceptance of decency-shattering conduct from cyber-bullying to calling for the assassination of the president is signaling and enabling the downward spiral.
The increasing availability of addictive substances from pornographic materials to drugs, liquor, digital media and other addictive outlets undermines humanity’s limits in several ways. That issue needs to be corrected on multiple levels if people are to be saved from addiction’s toxic vortex.
Addicts in rehabilitation centers are repeatedly told that they have “work” to do. They must explore the mindsets and behaviors that led to their addictions. They must reject those counter-productive realities, deciding instead to value productive mindsets and behaviors. They must practice productive mindsets and behaviors until they’re habitual. They need to pursue support systems from family to friendships to therapy, including therapeutic follow-up when stress levels exceed an individual’s coping mechanisms. Addicts must avoid events, people or other “triggers” that set off a downward cascade of harmful thoughts and behaviors that can lead right back to addiction in a new form or with the same substance(s) as before. Recovery is not a One-Size-Fits-All situation. It is specific to the person.
Once the above issues have been addressed honestly and sufficiently, the grip of opioid and other addiction can decrease, if not end, throughout society. There is much painful, hard work to do. The reward is liberation from the enslavement to opioid or any addiction, self-respect and a far pleasanter future.