I didn't go to the metalsmithing open studio tonight because I was having problems with sweating and felt a little nauseous. I think the problem was that my pain patches were running out and I was starting to go through withdrawl. I've never got to the worst parts of opiate withdrawl - when people talk about it, they almost always say they feel like they're dying - but the nausea and sweating (on top of my regular sweating) is bad enough.
I know that I'm physically dependent on the pain patches because of the withdrawl symptoms I experience. When I first started taking these drugs I was a little worried about being addicted to them but somehow I don't feel that I've got the psychological addiction. My doctors also told me not to worry about addiction because it's a comparatively small issue in relation to everything else.
I've read a lot of books and watched a lot of shows about prescription opiate - especially Oxycontin - addiction. It's apparently at ridiculous levels and people don't really understand why it's so prevalent and why it got that way so quickly. Oxycontin has only been around for the last 15 years or so, so how did so many people get addicted to it?
Lots of people ended up hooked because they were prescribed it for pain. It's a wonder-drug because it kills pain that other painkillers don't even touch. Apparently lots of people also ended up hooked on them because they assume that since it was prescribed by a doctor, they were ok to take. Too bad it's so highly addictive and it's so hard to wean people off of it.
It's also come to light that some people take it because it soothes emotional pain as well as physical pain. They're self-medicating to try to get rid of a pain they didn't know they had. Most of these people would never take heroin to get rid of that pain but these pills come (indirectly, perhaps) from a doctor so they must be ok. But when they try to get off these pills, they're facing the same withdrawl symptoms that heroin addicts face. Heroin addicts have a pretty good idea of where their addiction is going to take them but prescription opiate users don't expect to go down that road. They don't expect the drug to stop working for them, or to need more to stay level, or to start finding (less legal, perhaps) ways to get the drugs they need, or to go through that terrible withdrawl.
In the US, agencies have taken steps to prevent doctor-shopping and fake prescriptions but preventing that access isn't addressing the real problem: the reason why people are taking these drugs. Sure, some people take them because they'll take almost anything but just about every drug addict has their drug of choice. Why are prescription opiates that drug of choice for so many? How can other drugs or lifestyle changes give those same effects?
These are questions that deserve some attention. Sweeping the addiction under the rug or declaring a war on this drug isn't enough - there's a real opportunity to find out more about the brain and how it works and to help people. Yes, oxycontin addiction is a scary thing and it's scary that it became so prevalent so quickly. It also does a lot of good for a lot of people if it's managed well.