Addiction recovery articles: What is the solution?
by Ned Wicker
Any problem has a solution. By solution I mean a way to make the situation better, not necessarily make it go away. Drug addiction is one of those problems. We can make it better, but we can’t make it disappear. Why can't we make it disappear, because drug addiction is a chronic disease, and as with all chronic diseases we can treat it but not cure it. Interestingly, the solution may or may not be what somebody wants to hear. If you are looking for another way of solving your problem, this column might be helpful.
Here’s an important premise—people are made up of body, mind, spirit. These are three distinctly different elements of the human condition and set us apart from any other living creatures. Because there are three areas of our existence, it stands to reason that all three come into play when approaching the problem of drug addiction. This web site covers a lot of ground, as do many others, but I have to admit to you that it isn’t enough to identify the medical issues concerning drug usage, or talk about the mess it creates in our criminal justice system, or even how addiction rips families apart.
Most every story or posting on the site centers around information about a drug, or how a drug as destroyed the health and happiness of the addict. I’d like to focus on the impact of addiction on the spiritual well-being of our communities, our country, our families and ourselves.
We will try to help you understand what is going on around the country, and in doing so, give you another viewpoint on the drug addiction epidemic. Information, in and of itself, is neutral, and so you are free to accept or reject any opinion that is expressed here. What meaning you get from the words here is worthy of exploration. How do we formulate opinions, and what emotions are attached to them? You see, the study of addiction is also a study of human nature. And so it begins.
By Ned Wicker
People have always looked for answers. When there is a crisis, they look for meaning. When there is a disaster, they look for solutions. When the unthinkable happens, they want to know why. Humans are infinitely curious, always looking out there somewhere for an explanation, but not necessarily the truth. If there is a disaster, somebody has to be blamed. If the problems of life are self-inflicted, there has to be a way to avoid responsibility. We want answers to our questions, as long as they fit our own criteria.
Drug addiction is a dreadful public health concern. The rise in heroin addiction and overdoses are staggering, but no amount of public information, no educational program, and no system of advance warning is going to change that. People are going to do drugs no matter who tells them otherwise, no matter how obvious the deadly ramifications. We live in our own world and we play by our own rules.
We are autonomous, self-reliant and exceedingly arrogant. Where I differ from the vast majority of people is in the origin of drug addiction. Yes it is a disease. Yes, it is a medical issue. But the root cause of drug addiction is not so much medical in nature, or psychological. It is spiritual. The idea of a spiritual problem is not widely accepted, because in the scientific world, there has to be an answer for everything, and everything that is must be observable. We have to be able to create and re-create situations in a lab in order to verify evidence.
I look at the rise in addiction as a parallel to the rise in secularism. Throughout human history, as peoples separate themselves from God, calamity is sure to happen. I am not suggesting an apocalyptic doom and gloom scenario, in which an angry god is hovering over creation waiting to strike it down. Rather, I see a situation in which people consistently refuse to act in their own best interest. It’s a human tragedy. I believe the answer is God, our creator, sustainer and redeemer.
Think of all the anti-drug addiction programs over the years. “Just Say No” or “D.A.R.E.” or any of the others. Do they work? Have those programs halted the addiction crisis? No. But people scream bloody murder when a spiritual solution is offered, mainly because of their misguided belief that any spiritual intervention violates “separation of church and state.” With all due respect for Thomas Jefferson, he did not intend for God to be shut out of public opinion. He also did not want people to hide behind their own misunderstanding in order to blame someone else.
Personal responsibility is the key element in fighting drug addiction. The most important step a person can take in getting back on the pathway of sobriety is to come to grips with the fact that he/she has a problem. Alcoholics Anonymous had it right in its very first step, which is an admission of a problem. “We were powerless over _____, that our lives had become unmanageable.”
More often than not, people stumble, because they sincerely believe they can manage their problem, without help or outside interference. They hear or read information about drug addiction and recovery, they nod their heads in agreement, and then forget that they have to take the next step. The talented jazz singer Amy Winehouse said “No, no, no” to rehab and paid a dear price for her refusal to get help. She had her own answers. But the wisdom of AA is that we don’t have all the answers, that we do need other people in our lives to help us and hold us up when the going gets tough.
The operative question is “What hurts?” Aside from recreation, why do people immerse themselves in a lifestyle that can only lead, left unchecked, to their death? Why do they fight against treatment with all of their strength and resolve? Even after detoxification and periods of sobriety, they still go back. I submit that a spiritual issue is driving that action. It goes beyond medical and psychological. It is the complexity of the human existence that makes drug addiction such a difficult enemy to conquer.
As we look at the ever-growing problem of addiction in our country, if we look at the spiritual component, we will get a much clearer picture of what is happening to our families, our communities and our society. Medical interventions, law enforcement and the like will continue to play a role in this fight, and are not to be discounted, but the spiritual element must be included in order to make sense of the entire situation. That is the underlying focal point of this unfolding story.
By Ned Wicker
Back in the mid-1800’s German scientists came up with a great treatment for pain relief and they were absolutely convinced that it would not be addictive. It was heralded as a miracle drug and was widely used during our Civil War, as battleground surgeons treated devastating injuries and marveled at its effectiveness. The trouble was many soldiers, both North and South, left the horrors of war and came face-to-face with the horrors of addiction. It seems that miracle drug, morphine, was not the answer.
A few years later they came back with an improved drug, one that would do the same job, but was certainly be safe to use and avoid the calamity of addiction. The world was introduced to heroin. Fast forward to the 21st Century and we are still dealing with the destructive side of heroin and it’s predecessor morphine.
During a routine web surf for news, I read an article by Ariel Zilber of Dailymail.com and the Associated Press and was saddened to learn that even heroin isn’t enough for some people. Back in late August she wrote that there had been an estimate 80 heroin overdoses—three fatal—over a two-day period and that another 174 overdoses were suspected. While heroin overdoses are not uncommon, why the spike? Zilber reported that they were mixing the heroin with a “powerful sedative used on elephants, which is 100,000 times more potent than morphine.” The sedative is called carfentanil.
As a member of a healthcare team, working in a hospital unit, I often talk to people about pain management. I am not a doctor or a medical person of any kind, but I try to ease their minds about the pain they are experiencing following a surgical procedure. The pain should go away and the patient should feel much better soon. I sometimes joke with them about our ability to sedate an elephant, but that we want them to experience some pain so we can track whether or not things are progressing as they should. It would be easy just to medicate a person after surgery and then bring them out in time to go home. That, however, would be counter-productive and not good medical practice. But then I read about carfentinil and quickly decided my example was not funny.
The heroin problem is all over, not just in Cincinnati, where the article originated. The article talked of 26 overdoses in West Virginia. I live west of Milwaukee, WI, in Waukesha County, where heroin overdoses are also rising in alarming numbers. Reports coming out of Indianapolis talk of a heroin mixture using fentanyl, which is a commonly used pain management tool for post-surgical patients. Mixed with heroin, this makes for a deadly cocktail. Fentanyl is 50 times more potent than heroin, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. The street fentanyl, however, is not the same as the fentanyl used in hospitals, as it is a synthetic version, manufactured in China, then shipped to Mexico for distribution in the U.S.
The fact of the dangers of this substance are obvious, but do little in preventing people from giving it a try. Those who do not overdose are likely to be “satisfied” customers who will keep coming back for more of the intense high they may achieve, or are trying to achieve. And, there is ample market in this country for all the spiked heroin they can get, so the motivation for not manufacturing and smuggling the drug into the country is weak, if not at all. The risk is high, but the profits are enormous.
Once hooked, customers demand more and more drug. The irony is that the wonderful high they experienced at the beginning has turned into an unyielding master, demanding to be served. In chasing the high, people lose themselves, their hopes and dreams, and are left with nothing but shallow, meaningless days, living from fix-to-fix. The addiction may have begun with a recreational use of the drug, like a trip to the medicine cabinet to see if OxyContin was as good as people said it was. Perhaps it began with a failed pain management intervention. The cycle begins in so many ways.
The idea of an elephant sedation drug should be scary enough, but for the addict, nothing is enough. Emergency Departments across the country are dealing with the epidemic. Heroin addiction has one end—death, unless treated. Trying to achieve that ultimate high, or in some way make the “pain” go away is a powerful force and people will not go quietly into treatment, especially if the addiction is in complete control of their lives. Perhaps this is a chicken and egg issue. If there were no market for drugs, the cartels would go away and the Chinese manufacturing of synthetic opioids for American addicts would cease. Heroin manufacturing in Mexico and its neighbors in Central and South America would also come to a halt.
Carfentinil winding up in street heroin is just an example of market demand. If you pick up a snake by its tail, it will coil back and bite you. If you get it by the head, you can kill it, or render it helpless. Treatment for addicts should not be approached lightly. The addict’s will is weak, their behavior will demonstrate that over and over. I have always believed that an “all hands on deck” approach to treatment is necessary.
It is not a surprise that those who traffic heroin would look for ways to make the product more potent, but at the same time keep the price down so profits can soar. Carfentinil is convenient, especially if you can manufacture it at low cost. The cost in lives is staggering. But for the addict, it’s never enough.