I have to admit that I have a guilty pleasure; Yahoo™ News. Anytime I utter something ridiculous to my daughter she asks, “Have you been reading Yahoo™ News again mom?”  In any case, an article this past week was written by a mother in California who lost her son to an opiate overdose. Because this is a subject that is important to me, I read the story and the comments.

There were many compassionate souls who gave condolences, but it was shocking to me that the majority of responses were people who blamed the mother, or the lack of sound parenting, for her loss. Or, they blamed the deceased for “choosing” to take drugs; many of the trolls claimed that addiction is not a disease, but a choice.

This is a complex issue and the sting of the stigma surrounding heroin use and overdoses keeps people from speaking out about their experiences and losses. Not sharing our stories is only worsening the opioid crisis and it is sad to see this mother being bashed with disinformation. These folks commenting on the mother’s story and heartfelt plea simply do not know the facts of opioid addiction as such:

  1. Opioid addiction is a disease. The ICD code is: F11.20
  2. The CDC recently found that 80% of heroin users were first exposed to opioids as a legal medication prescribed by a medical doctor, as was true for my step-son.[1]
  3. It has been determined that dependency on opioid medication can occur in as little as 5 days. [2]Once patients are cut off of their medications they turn to illicit sources of opioids such as heroin which is often laced with the much stronger synthetic opioid, fentanyl. This compounds the severity of the opioid addiction.
  4. Opioids create such profound brain changes that quitting this drug is not simply a matter of determination.
  5. Withdrawal from opioids is an excruciating ordeal with both physical and mental torment that would dissuade almost anyone from stopping using the drugs without professional assistance that is not readily made available to addicts; our society has chosen to punish users rather than treat them effectively.

To the folks who commented that they and their families have never used drugs, I am very happy for your blessing in this regard. If you think you are immune from being affected by the opioid epidemic, you are not; I think that this was the point that the mother was trying to make. If you think that you don’t know a family in your church, work, or social circle who have been negatively affected by opioid addiction, this is simply the result of people around you not wanting to share their stories out of shame. It’s no longer about “us” and “them”; opioids can affect people of all social and economic standings. As a society, we must shed the stigma over drug addiction before we will every effectively overcome the opioid epidemic crisis.

[1] https://www.cdc.gov/rxawareness/pdf/Overview-Rx-Awareness-Resources.pdf

[2] https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/news/20170316/opioid-dependence-can-start-in-just-a-few-days


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