The opioid crisis is happening all around us in the background of society, as overdoses from street drugs and prescription painkillers continue to rise. Talk to your local firemen and paramedics and you’ll quickly realize the situation is sucking up our public resources while ruining lives and destroying families. A crisis as devastating as this should be top priority for a sane society, however this issue gets very little media attention, all the while, pharmaceutical companies are reaping massive profits, and globally, the black market for illegal heroin has become a global industry.
Pharmaceutical makers are tweaking their product lines to supply more options for opiate addicts: stronger pills, weaker pills, new guidelines, overdose antidotes, and so on. Yet, none of this addresses the root of the problem, instead only targeting the symptoms of the crisis, and a bigger idea is needed to interrupt the trend.
Gabor Maté, Canada’s renowned addiction specialist recently commented on this issue, specifically addressing fentanyl, the super-potent new pharmaceutical grade opiate which, in some areas, has been found in up to 90% of street drugs tested at independent testing facilities. He first spoke about the genuine need for pain killers:
“The drugs these users choose are often opiates, the most powerful painkillers we know. In my years as a palliative care physician, I daily had reason to be grateful for the easing of suffering the opiate medications afforded my patients afflicted with cancer and other pain-inducing conditions. But opiates also soothe emotional pain; in fact, the suffering of psychic pain is experienced in the same part of the brain as that of physical pain.” ~Gabor Maté
Getting to the root, though, why is there so much pain which needs to be numbed in our society? This is the big question that when addressed is the only thing which can offer a way out of this crisis.
Maté asserts this epidemic is cultural, not physical, noting that the world we’ve created is, ‘devoid of a deep appreciation of the complexity of addiction and its sources in human experience.’
Human experience, the most vital notion in healing addiction. What is it about the human experience that calls so many of us into the abyss?
“What engenders such unbearable pain in human beings that they would knowingly risk their very lives to escape it?” ~Gabor Maté
Regarding human experience, psychiatrist Thomas Hora wrote:
“The meaning of all addictions could be defined as endeavours at controlling our life experiences with the help of external remedies. Unfortunately, all external means of improving our life experiences are double-edged swords: they are always good and bad. No external remedy improves our condition without, at the same time, making it worse.”
Mate’s primary hypothesis is that childhood trauma is the leading factor driving people to addiction, as he has personally seen in 12 years of working with addiction patients in urban Vancouver, BC, Canada.
“In my 12 years in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, ground zero for addiction in Canada, all my female patients reported sexual abuse in childhood, all the male patients abuse or neglect of one kind or another.
As large scale international epidemiological studies have repeatedly demonstrated, childhood adversity is at the core of the emotional patterns and psychological dynamics that drive addiction.
Further, childhood trauma shapes the physiology of the developing brain in ways that induce a susceptibility to addiction. Hence the addiction-prone person finds relief in substances that would not entice others, even after repeated exposure to the same drugs.
In turn, prolonged drug use also changes the brain in ways that further entrench the addictive drive.” ~Gabor Maté
Furthermore, he notes the need for a shift in how medical science looks at addiction is absolutely vital:
“And it would be of great help if all legal, medical and political professionals, as well as the general public, were informed of what modern research has taught us about child and brain development, and the tortured and manifold responses of the human psyche to early trauma. If the people now dying in this preventable epidemic were succumbing to a bacterial infection, we would declare a public emergency and mobilize to contain it.” ~Gabor Maté
This crisis is a pharmaceutical corporation/medical doctor created epidemic. The drugs are out there, and are not going anywhere. Record poppy production in Afghanistan coupled with the fact that pharmaceutical companies are flooding the streets with pills means that in order for this crisis to be resolved, we have to find a way for people to choose life over addiction.
His most important question, however, may very well be this one: Who are we when we are not addicted?