Dr. Henry Paul, MD

Psychiatrist, Author and Educator


April 15th, 2016

Addiction is similar to other diseases, such as heart disease. Both disrupt the normal, healthy functioning of the underlying organ, have serious harmful consequences, are preventable, treatable, and if left untreated, can last a lifetime. Source: From the laboratories of Drs. N. Volkow and H. Schelbert.

Last week I posted a blog about Narcan™ (naloxone), an opiate antidote that saves lives! It was brought to my attention this week that a local community coalition spreading the word about opiate and heroin addiction was offering a free Narcan training, and I was surprised by some of the online conversation about it.

33645761_sSome of the comments were about “letting the addicts die” because they (the addict) had made a choice to use drugs. Others were debating whether-or-not addiction is a disease. What these comments tell me is that there is a lot of confusion out there amongst adults about opiate addiction (including heroin, which is an opiate). So, I thought I would dry to address some of the confusion here.

First, drug addiction is a disease that develops over time as a result of the initially voluntary behavior of using drugs. While the full causes are not known drug addiction does take on a life of its own. Addiction ends up affecting a host of functions of a person’s body and mind.

In June of 2015, TIME magazine had a cover story, “Why America Can’t Kick Its Painkiller Problem.” The story makes the case that these addictions no longer start in the dark alleys with drug dealers, but rather start in doctors’ offices with everyday people seeking relief for their pain. These painkillers, known as opioids, are used to treat everything from migraine headaches to back pain, to sports injuries, to severe pelvic pain to chronic Lyme disease.

Here’s a little excerpt from the article that gives a pretty clear picture. “The longer patients stay on the drugs, which are chemically related to heroin and trigger a similar biological response, including euphoria, the higher the chances users will become addicted. When doctors, regulators and law-enforcement officials try to curb access, addicted patients buy the pills on the black market, where they are plentiful. And when those supplies run short, people who would never have dreamed of shooting up, like suburban moms and middle-class professionals, seek respite from the pain of withdrawal with the more potent method of dissolving and injecting the pills’ contents, or going straight to heroin.” (Massimo Calabresi, TIME)

This opiate epidemic is leading elected officials and the medical community to a point where we have to rethink pain management in this country. Law enforcement is on the treatment side. Yes, believe-it-or-not getting arrested leads to the beginning of treatment for many. What we need to do, and what was evident to me by reading some of the comments online, is that we have to put much more effort into awareness and prevention.

Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction – this booklet explains scientific information about addiction that is easily understandable. Here is a link to a PDF you can download.

Why America Can’t Kick Its Painkiller Problem – You do need a TIME subscription to read this article.

How Science Has Revolutionized the Understanding of Drug Addiction

Easy to Read Drug Facts from the NIDA

Information contained in this blog is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended as medical or psychiatric advice for individual conditions or treatment and does not substitute for a medical or psychiatric examination. A psychiatrist must make a determination about any treatment or prescription.

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