Fighting Back Against Drugs

Help addicts recover with honesty, empathy and bipartisan action.

Today: Drug addiction

BOB: There is a drug epidemic in America that has been growing for years. Although the news media have paid attention to this crisis, as usual the politicians until recently ignored the problem or were not aware of it. At the center of this epidemic are powerful pain medications, especially Percocet, OxyContin and a return of heroin in epic amounts. The two are connected. In the past several years, the number of prescriptions for opioid pain medications has reached an all time high. These medicines not only work, the effect is also very similar to heroin. They are expensive and horribly addicting. When users can’t afford opioids, they turn to heroin.

CAL: We are used to hearing about celebrities — from Elvis Presley to Jamie Lee Curtis to Michael Jackson, among many others — who have been prescribed painkillers and other drugs by doctors who in some cases were paid a lot of money for their “services” but who, it could be argued, did not serve their patients well. This problem has become mainstream.

BOB:Time devoted its June 15 cover to the opioid addiction epidemic. Headlined, “They’re the most powerful painkillers ever invented. And they’re creating the worst addiction crisis America has ever seen,” the magazine’s cover story exposed the extent of the crisis. Other major news outlets, including 60 Minutes, followed. Hillary Clinton, President Obama and several GOP presidential candidates then spoke out.

CAL: Yes, but some of the politicians are exaggerating a problem that needs no exaggeration. As The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler noted, President Obama, Carly Fiorina, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have all made incorrect or debatable statements about the number of drug abusers in state and federal prisons.

BOB: One of America’s foremost experts in chronic pain, Dr. Peter Przekop, director of pain management at the Betty Ford center, has been warning the medical and scientific communities about the epidemic for years. On the back cover of his new book, Conquer Chronic Pain: An Innovative Mind-Body Approach, Przekop says, “The incidence of chronic pain has taken on epidemic proportions. The common response of traditional medicine has been to prescribe opiod painkillers, which can lead to overdose and addiction.” Finally, the medical profession is listening.

CAL: Before these drugs were created, people mostly had to suffer pain with few options. As you know from personal experience, overprescribing drugs can lead to addiction, and addiction leads to even greater problems that affect families, one’s job and even life.

BOB: In a study published by the National Academy of Science, Anne Case and Angus Deaton of Princeton were surprised to discover the death rate among all demographics had been falling for years in the U.S., but starting in 1999 the death rate among whites ages 45- 54 increased significantly. The researchers found that this increase was due to overdoses of opioids, heroin, alcohol and suicide. It appears heroin, once a ghetto drug, has infected the suburbs and beyond.

CAL: According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “In 2013, an estimated 24.6 million Americans ages 12 or older — 9.4% of the population — had used an illicit drug in the past month (in that year). This number is up from 8.3% in 2002. The increase mostly reflects a recent rise in use of marijuana.” Some politicians, notably Clinton, want to “study” the possibility of relaxing marijuana laws. What is it that is driving so many to want to escape reality?

BOB: Some people think they need to escape whatever circumstances they are in, or simply get a thrill from being high. In New Hampshire last month, Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie, while talking about his mother’s addiction to cigarettes, chastised anyone who dismissed drug addicts and alcoholics as misfits and not worthy of attention. The New Jersey governor characterized as ignorant those people who did not recognize that drug and alcohol addiction was a disease, and that those afflicted with the disease needed attention and help. The video of his comments went viral.

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CAL: Christie’s right. While there may be a moral element to addiction, criticizing an addict doesn’t solve the problem. It can lead to isolation instead of treatment.

BOB: As you know Cal, I have been a recovering alcoholic and drug addict for over 14 years. I have seen firsthand the wreckage drugs and alcohol leave in their wakes. The recent explosion of opioid addiction almost caught me after a 10-hour back operation. There are millions who suffer from addiction and millions more — family and friends — who suffer with the addict. This is one of those issues that crosses party and ideological lines. It demands a bipartisan effort to deal with this epidemic.

CAL: Correct. Your openness about your own struggles, as recounted in your new book, I Should Be Dead: My Life Surviving Politics, TV and Addiction, can give hope and inspire those struggling with drug and alcohol problems. While many issues are and ought to be debated in the presidential campaign, drug and alcohol abuse and addiction should be high on the list.