Why the War on Opioid Addiction is Being Lost

When people speak of the epidemic of Opioid Addiction; they generally look to why people start using. And there are some good ideas on the topic. http://www.cnn.com/2016/05/12/ This CNN article details an 11-line letter printed in the New England Journal of Medicine in January 1980 pushing back on the popular thought that using opioids to treat chronic pain was risky.

The National Institute of Health discusses the fact that the number of prescriptions has significantly risen recently among other factors. “Several factors are likely to have contributed to the severity of the current prescription drug abuse problem. They include drastic increases in the number of prescriptions written and dispensed, greater social acceptability for using medications for different purposes, and aggressive marketing by pharmaceutical companies.” From https://www.drugabuse.gov/

But one glaring factor seems to be escaping the discussion. The similarity between the effects of Alcohol Abuse and Opioid Intoxication and Abuse. While many people take for granted the idea that “marijuana is a gateway drug” they are missing the truth in the matter. Alcohol is the true gateway drug. And it is legal.

Flashback to 1974. The world is in the grips of turmoil. Much like today. People are protesting the United States involvement in the Vietnam conflict. And at home the way that some of our citizens have been treated. There are marches and visionaries speaking out against oppression and civil injustice. People are turning on to tune it all out and find some peace inside and out. Timothy Leary is selling the idea that LSD could be a gateway to personal growth. Some of his more popular notions included that idea that using LSD (a powerful hallucinogenic) could lead to the expansion of the mind.

Suburban cocktail parties are all the rage. Mad Men really did live and love like the TV Show. Drinking at most all social occasions was considered to be the “in thing”. My own parents had a nice stash of alcoholic beverages in the living room, then the den, and finally behind lock and key.

Among the younger people such as myself; it was considered to be cool to smoke cigarettes and get drunk on stolen liquor. That was where it all began for me. Smoking cigarettes and stealing liquor from my parents at the behest of some of the other neighborhood children. We did not have access to drugs or weed. But we could get the local merchant to sell us cigarettes. Or get someone to buy them for us. And we definitely had access to plenty of beer and liquor. Because our parents and the older children always had alcohol.

There were people using heroin. They were called “junkies”. And all of us learned early on that using heroin was not a good idea. It was common knowledge that if you started; you would not stop. In fact, we would get drunk and talk about how we would never do it. And it was not very easy to find in the suburbs as of yet. It was easy to find weed. And we did. And even when we were high as a kite, we still had no desire to try to get higher. Using marijuana did not lead to heavier drugs. It only led to the McDonald’s and then a nice soft bed to take a nap on. None of us thought about how to get higher when we smoked weed. And we certainly did not think about trying to find heroin and start sticking needles in our arms. That was considered to be sick. And to be avoided.

Alcohol on the other hand was leading to all sorts of problems. And continues to. There is scientific research to back the notion that alcohol is the true gateway drug and can lead to opiate addiction. Consider this article about the similarities in effect.

To quote it briefly,

“In examining the difference between being drunk and high, consider the following signs that the two drugs often share: Increases in heart rate and blood pressure. Disoriented movements like swaying, stumbling and staggering. Mood swings, including depression with alcohol and anxiety with opiates. Slurred speech, drowsiness, vomiting and irritability.”

And this article,

“There are similarities between alcohol and opiates. The research is beyond my full understanding, but the research results show that the two drugs act on the same parts of the brain in similar ways. I have a hunch that one day science will discover there are more similarities than differences. The biggest difference today is that opiates are associated with heroin, and heroin is the bad child who no one discusses. However, in the 60s, young people (and even some older people), started asking why alcohol is socially acceptable, yet marijuana is not.

The acceptance of alcohol as the “good” drug was/is a social construct. Heroin was once associated solely with the back alleys, poverty, minorities, musician-types, crime, needles, disease, and so on. Heroin/opiates have a long history of going between popularity/vilification. Heroin was out of favor with most people until recently, about a decade ago, when heroin use started to rise and young people started to find it acceptable to use. Young people discovered they can smoke heroin or snort it — they don’t have to use a needle. Plus, opiates are purchased with a prescription, and opioids are opioids are opioids.”

That has even been a whole book written on the subject if you care to research further. The irony is that this book was written in 1977. So although this idea has been around for a long time; people are still trying to wage the war based on falsehoods.

If we as a society want to sincerely help people to stay sober and clean; we have got to start recognizing that when people start using alcohol, they are opening themselves up to using other drugs including nicotine and opiates. Hopefully, if you read this; you will share it with your children before they ever take that first drink. And if you are a drinker, you will recognize that your desire to catch a little buzz is much more similar to using drugs then you may be aware of. And you are not better than the person who is stealing pills or money to get their fix. Because you are both on the same path seeking the same thing. Some way to put the world on hold and escape.

I understand it. And have been there. But there is a better way. If you are already taking drugs, please be assured that if you want to get clean; you can. First step, come out into the light and admit you have a problem and seek help. We want you to recover and live. We love you. Those are actually the most potent weapons in the “war on drugs”. Light and Love. Not propaganda.