The Rolling Stones famous 1966 song: ‘Mother’s Little Helper’ which made a controversial comment about the housewives popping benzos like candy, rings as true today as it did 50 years ago. These pills are kindly prescribed by the trustworthy family doc, so why wouldn’t you take them and why wouldn’t you do as they say? An aging (so relatively successful) Glaswegian gangster once said to me: “There are only two people that you should trust in life: your doctor and your lawyer”. If this is the belief of a man, who clearly doesn’t give his faith away easily, then what do you reckon the average person thinks?
Addictive prescription drugs fall into 4 main categories:
- Opiate painkillers such as OxyContin, Tramadol, Fentanyl and Vicodin.
- Benzodiazepines (Benzo’s) such as Xanax and Valium. As a side note here it is interesting to note that 10 mg of Valium is equivalent to 0.5 mg of Xanax. And one of the most dangerous combinations of drugs is combining anything from the opioid group with the benzo group.
- Stimulants such as Adderall and Ritalin.
- Antipsychotics such as Seroquel and Zyprexa.
Sedate the Stereotype
In 2015, the Australian Medical Association, declared prescription drug addiction a “national emergency,” after Australia’s rate of addiction to these tablets was reported as the second highest in the world, only after the United States, afflicting 3-4% of the population.
Shockingly, half a century on from the Stone’s song and this is still a trend which sedates a vast swathe of the population: a demographic which simply does not fit with the stereotype of the addict that inhabits the popular imagination and therefore sadly doesn’t get the help they need to live a fulfilling life without these synthetic emotional crutches. It’s pretty hard for the addict who gets a legal score to find the desperation and the rock bottom that so many people credit the beginning of their recovery with.
If somebody who fits the stereotype of the typical addict goes into the doctor’s surgery planning to hit them up for a prescription of some tasty Valium, a little teaser of Xanax or cheeky strip of Oxy, the likelihood of them walking out with a script is rather slim. But change the shape of the addict into somebody over 40 years old who is a dependable housewife or well- thought-of businessman with a respectable job and the boundaries change. It’s also worth adding that this individual may not even know they are capable of developing the disease of addiction and may be utterly unaware of the potential damage these medications may have on their lives.
Addiction Does Not Discriminate
My esteemed colleague, recently wrote a blog about a famous Aussie footballer, entitled ‘You’re Just a Drug Addict Ben’, where he said: “What is forgotten or mostly unknown is that drug addiction is the true “equal opportunity disease.” It does not care who your parents are, how much money you have in the bank, how many premierships you played or what a beautiful girlfriend you have. Addiction affects equally those from all segments of society regardless of their background or current circumstance.”
It is a sad state of affairs that even in the 21st century, with all the knowledge and research that has been done surrounding addiction that doctors, the very backbone of the medical profession, are often unaware of this simple fact. And further to this, simply maddening that despite all the work done by so many that stereotypes and stigma still hold so much power.
Mrs Jones – the housewife from the suburbs with the nice car and a position on every local committee known to man is just as capable of getting addicted as Bogen Paul with his poverty stricken background, lack of education and dead-end prospects.
Similarly, the disease does not care if you are receiving your panacea curtesy of the local GP and the clean, soft hands of the pharmacist or through the letter box of some dodgy flat or back-handed through dirty digits down a dark alley.
Furthermore, the chemical reactions in your brain are the same whether the drug is prescribed or illegally obtained. Without getting into a big chemistry lecture, its suffice to say, all these groups of drugs work a little differently but they all have the ability to change the function and structure of the brain in just the same way the illegal ones do. Opiates/opioids, whether in the form of bags of illegal heroin or in neatly packaged blister packs, affect exactly the same receptors.
Also the latest research acknowledges that addicts have faulty dopamine receptors (pleasure centres in the brain) before they even pick up a substance and then having found something that something that gives them the pleasure and comfort they need, they do it to death. Often this has to do with genetics and prescribing doctors should certainly ask if there is addiction/alcoholism or even workaholism in the family and proceed with their decisions fully informed.
Basically, these powerful narcotics can cause physical dependence and withdrawal. Some of them, benzo’s in particular, are dangerous to detox from and this process should not be attempted without skilled medical supervision.
More than just Chemistry
The disease of addiction is not just a physical condition but something that impacts on every area of the individual’s life: it overshadows relationships with others and yourself, it affects your happiness and your connection with life itself. One of the latest catchphrases is ‘addiction is a disease of disconnection’. And this can apply to everyone from the stressed out manager and the bored housewife to the disaffected youth.
But You Don’t Understand – I’m Special!
It doesn’t matter if you are Mr Jakey, living out of a skip and panhandling or Mr Jones the high flying lawyer or somewhere in between, you are probably going to think that you are special and that your specific circumstances warrant the use of whatever your poison is. When I entered treatment for the first time I was a pretty average Heroin addict (whose daily consumption of chemicals included a colourful splash of anything that was on offer that day including prescription pills and crack). I also, however, had a good education and had enjoyed a relative degree of success before my addiction really took hold (it’s worth noting that I still ended up homeless and begging for spare change). I therefore looked around at my peers in treatment and I could find a million reasons, as can anyone, of why I was different, all of which were half thought through deceptions which I really believed as solid, unshakable facts. The therapists at my treatment facility really worked hard to get me to break these core beliefs.
Now, don’t get me wrong, there are some fantastic doctor’s in all areas of the medical profession and they do the best they can with the information that they have. Organisations like ScriptWise are calling for things like a ‘real time prescription monitoring service’ which would allow GP’s to see if a patient had been script shopping elsewhere and this is great. However, more comprehensive screening needs to be done including a family history and looking at alternatives to the quick fix. Education too is pretty key, for both doctors and their patients. Knowledge is power.
Finally, the solution should be more broad-reaching than this, tackling for starters, some the stigma that surrounds going to residential drug and alcohol treatment. This would help many of Australia’s law abiding citizens, with their good jobs and outwardly comfortable lives to feel safe to seek the help that would really benefit them and their families. Drug rehab is not just for crazy Ice addicts. In my treatment program I watched a guy who owned a helicopter company and never been in trouble with the law, learn life lessons from a man who had left school at 15 and been in and out of jail regularly. This is part of the beauty of rehab.
It about time that society chose to sedate stigmas and stereotypes, not actual people.
If you have a problem with prescription drugs or any other substance call one of our advisors for a free consultation today.