Facing Addiction in America


Addiction is a clinically accepted form of mental illness, a debilitating disease of the brain that can steal everything good from you—even your life. Certainly, people have been dying from alcohol and tobacco related complications for millennia, even though those substances are typically legal for adult consumption in today’s world. When that occurs, it is not uncommon for members of the general public to think that they died from a character flaw that they were unable to change. It is a line of thinking that could not be further from the truth, a veritably “flawed” line of reasoning, to be sure.

For nearly twenty years, Americans have been battling with opioid addiction. Rampant over-prescribing of opioid painkillers resulted in over two million people developing an opioid use disorder. Efforts to alter prescribing practices in America, via putting ceilings on the number of pills that can be prescribed and the duration of a prescription, did manage to reduce prescription opioid abuse in the United States. However, making it more difficult for Americans to acquire opioid painkillers, resulted in the creation of a vacuum, which in turn led to a scourge of heroin abuse and the importation of even more deadly opioids.

The Great Lengths of Addiction


Attempts at curbing the American opioid epidemic, in some ways, is analogous to playing a game of Whack-o-Mole—only with a darker outcome. Making it harder to get prescription opioids, only served to create a larger demand for heroin, fentanyl and other synthetic opioids. In many cases people with an opioid use disorder traded deadly drugs for even more deadly narcotics. Fentanyl is 100 times more potent than morphine and 80 times stronger than medical grade heroin. Law enforcement officials and medical professionals have seen a surge in fentanyl abuse and subsequent overdose deaths.

If fentanyl weren’t scary enough, it turns out that there are even more deadly opioid narcotics that can be acquired with ease and in some cases, legally over the Internet. The drug we are referring to is carfentanil, which is 10,000 times more potent than morphine and should only be used for sedating large animals, such as elephants. Yet, Americans are ordering the fentanyl-analog online to be used by humans.

The behaviors being exhibited is nothing short of mind-boggling. Just a pinhead sized amount of carfentanil touching the skin can be lethal, nevertheless people are still taking the risk. It just goes to show that you make it next to impossible for an addict to get their hands on a particular mind altering substance, and they will find a way to maintain their addiction. Risk of life is seemingly of little consequence. With such great stakes at risk, it is hard to view addiction as being a mere character flaw, rather than a mental illness or disease of the mind. People will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid opioid withdrawal symptoms. Which is why we need to put more emphasis on treating addiction, rather than making it harder to get drugs or punishing those who are afflicted by the disease.

Viewing Addiction Differently


Addiction is a disability that affects millions of Americans each year, thousands of which will not live to see the end of the year. Instead of looking at or talking about addiction as being a moral failing or a character flaw, we need to look at addiction the same way we would any potentially fatal disease. Just like a diabetic requires insulin maintenance to live, an addict requires treatment, followed by a lifelong course of spiritual maintenance.

The U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, released a report on addiction: A call to action that demands we look at addiction as what it really is—a mental illness. In “Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs and Health,” Murthy points out that for every dollar spent on addiction treatment services, saves $4 in health care costs and $7 in criminal justice costs every year, according to USA Today. The Surgeon General’s report calls for a paradigm shift regarding how society looks at addiction. Murthy would like to see the end of stigma and discrimination—seeing fewer prisoners and more patients.

“We have to recognize (addiction) isn’t evidence of a character flaw or a moral failing,” Murthy said. “It’s a chronic disease of the brain that deserves the same compassion that any other chronic illness does, like diabetes or heart disease.” 

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