I have seen just about every excuse for why the opioid epidemic is ravaging the countryside. From doctors overprescribing pain medication to drug dealing gangs and overzealous pharmaceutical companies to finally blaming it on the victims but ultimately, while each of these has elements of the truth, they are not the whole truth. There are two reasons why the opioid crisis is growing and while the doctors and the companies have a measure of blame, it is how we approach chronic pain as a society that is what drives the problem to greater heights.
Before going into the reasons why I want to add that it might be easy to dismiss what I am saying. However, let me assure you that I have seen opioid addiction up close and I have seen what it does. In almost every case that I have witnessed, there have been underlying reasons why the addiction took place and these are hardworking people who were dedicated to their families not some strung out addict, at least not at first. So, keep that in mind as I identify the root concerns for you.
Reason One: We Don’t Treat The Pain, We Treat The Symptoms
The human body is one system that is made up by other, smaller, systems which they are turn are made of even smaller systems. When a problem occurs within one system, it can cascade across the other systems causing all manner of problems and issues. However, doctors only tend to treat the main concern without consideration of the other systems. Granted, they look at the side effects of medication and contraindications but to treat pain, you have to treat both the smaller and the larger systems. Instead, doctors use the pain pill that hits the whole system.
Let provide an example, ten years ago I had a severe back problem. I had to be taken by ambulance to the hospital because I was unable to move. There, in the ER, I told the Doctor the pain was in my lower back. Instead of looking at the lower back in depth, they took an X-ray and then hit me with Synthetic Morphine. The doctor told he didn’t see anything wrong on the X-ray and didn’t know what was causing the pain but that the medicine should knock out the pain. Well, it didn’t. Oh sure, I got a great view of the ceiling tiles melting but it didn’t stop the pain. So, he gave me more medicine. More ceiling tiles melted and I could walk with a cane but the pain was still there.
The point is, he just looked quickly, hit the pain meds and sent me on my way. After spending about a week in bed, laying on my back the pain finally subsided and after some exercise, I was able to regain my mobility. Years later, I found out that I have a crushed nerve that from time to time creates issues. Now, I can blame the doctor but honestly, I have heard stories like this from other people. Even people who have regular doctors but it isn’t really the doctor’s fault. It is the system that is the problem.
Doctors, according to various stats, only see a patient about fifteen minutes at a time and they have to quickly diagnose and move to the next one. They have to see as many patients as possible in order to get paid. This means that there is less time per patient because the doctor and his family have to eat as well. Granted, this is a slight oversimplification but to go into the debt doctors have, especially in private practice, the payments and outlays for staff and materials as well as equipment would bore most people but they do exist and they do increase the costs significantly. Even doctors who work in hospitals have similar issues and concerns.
Reason Two: Poverty
So that is one problem, but there is another part of the system that is broken. It has a name, and its called poverty. Hardworking people have to work to care for their families and while many are two income situations, two incomes barely make ends meet any more. Thus, when one is sick or injured they need to dispense with the pain quickly to get back on their feet. I have seen welders and pipe fitters who should not be back at work, spending hours on shift while under the influence of pain meds because they have no choice. They might not even know the original pain is gone but they need that pill to keep them going. That is how addiction to pain meds start for many people.
Many people with opioid addictions didn’t start out as junkies on the street corner looking for a hydrocodone fix. These were hard working men and women who have to keep their lives and their family going in the face of certain ruin. Doctors aren’t to blame, often they are just trying to help their patients and people aren’t getting addicted because they are spending too much time at a rave. While the pharmaceutical companies share some of the responsibility for promoting these pain relievers so heavily, they can’t make people take them. Opioid addiction is just another example of how our society is broken and it isn’t because of greedy doctors or because we took God out of school, it is because our system promotes greed and blanket ambition over everything else.