My heart aches over the stories I hear about heroin overdoses. Local fathers post stories about their sons and daughters, fatal victims of the heroin market. Police conduct raids. The illegal marketing demand continues to fund Afghanistan poppy farmers. Other illegal drug markets cause societal issues, as meth labs contaminate homes and acreage. A house in my neighborhood is selling for half its former market value because of meth lab damage. More than ever, we live in a drug culture.
When I google “heroin,” however, my top hit is an article by the National Institute of Drug Abuse indicating that nearly half of young people who inject heroin reported abusing prescription opioids before starting to use heroin. As bad as our illegal drug market has become, the potential for the abuse of prescription drugs is a much more pervasive problem throughout America today.
This conversation is frequently fueled by stories about yet another superstar and his/her battles with prescription drugs, the most recent being that of Prince. I am not sufficiently familiar with his pain and challenges to comment on his possible addictions, but I am saddened at his plight and that of millions of Americans who deal with chronic pain.
Whether the pain is associated with migraines, cancer, cancer treatment, performance anxiety, or one of a hundred other issues, I am certain that someone among your friends and family needs the treatment by and benefits from prescription pain medication, in spite of the risks of addiction.
Responsible physicians are careful and cautious about prescribing opiates; sometimes they are too cautious. Individuals suffering from terminal cancer need the assistance; their risk of addiction pales in comparison to their current need. Individuals in hospice care often need the assistance; the short-term benefit overwhelms the challenges of the pending passing. In many applications, however, it is essential for physicians and users to balance the risks and benefits. The opiates are needed, yet they provide challenges associated with possible abuse and addiction. What is the answer?
More than ever, we need each other. I need you to help me make wise choices about the use and possible abuse of the opiates. I need an accountability partner, who will help me monitor my potential for abuse and addiction. I need to draw on your strength and wisdom; we need to make this a team effort.
We need accountability partners in many areas of our lives. When yet additional stories broke this winter about Johnny Manziel and his immature and illegal antics, threatening his NFL career, one of the CBS sport commentators asked where his family and friends were. Where are the mature adults in his life telling him, “Johnny, you can’t act that way. Cut it out.” Johnny needed an accountability partner.
Although we often hear of the rich and famous and their immature self-destruction, all of us are at risk, and especially so when it comes to prescribed opiates. Recognize the risks and ask your family and friends for help and monitoring. The risks will be greatly reduced when we have an accountability partner. More than ever, we need each other.
Dr. Gary L. Welton is assistant dean for institutional assessment, professor of psychology at Grove City College, and a contributor to The Center for Vision & Values.