Every day there seems to be more discussion about the opiate epidemic our country is facing.
Many people assume that those suffering from opiate addiction made bad choices or started by using substances recreationally when, in fact, a large portion of sufferers were overprescribed these medications from a physician.
Instead of managing pain with more effective non-narcotics and recommendations for physical therapies, many physicians have unwittingly contributed to the epidemic.
Patients followed their prescription directions, only to find they became violently ill and were left with a constant craving for these medicines when attempting to discontinue use.
Moreso than having a lack of judgment or low self-discipline, these sufferers are victims of a multimillion-dollar pharmaceutical industry that has pushed doctors to overprescribe for years. These corporations blatantly misled doctors and lied about the addiction potential of these medications to the point that they are often sued for millions of dollars.
However, they still continue this practice and even pay lobbyists to influence legislators to enact laws; making it more difficult for the DEA to investigate and hinder the oversaturation of opiates in the consumer market. America currently consumes 80 percent of the world’s opiates, having only 4.4 percent of the world’s population.
And while the general public is becoming more aware of the unethical practices that have created this perfect storm for the opiate epidemic, society still seems to shift the blame from those responsible and instead place it on the victims.
Significant preventative measures have been created to stem the practice of overprescribing – limiting prescriptions, mandatory prescription monitoring, changing focus on how we treat pain in general – but we still have fallen dreadfully short getting help for those already suffering from opiate addiction.
One of the biggest barriers to their recovery is the crippling social stigma that comes from being labeled an “addict.” Even more deadly is the nonsensical bias against medically assisted treatment, which has been scientifically proven to be the most effective.
In the words of FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, “The stigma reflects a view some have; that a patient is still suffering from addiction even when they’re in full recovery, just because they require medication to treat their illness. This attitude reveals a flawed interpretation of science. It stems from a key misunderstanding many of us have of the difference between a physical dependence and an addiction.”
It’s time to stop shaming those suffering from this disease and allow them to come out of the shadows and into the light of recovery.
Matt Burch is a certified addictions counselor, director of Recovery Concepts LLC, and member of South Carolina Association for the Treatment of Opioid Dependence.