Addiction is a National Public Health Crisis

Addiction and obsessive behaviour have been present in human civilization for a very long time and it manifests itself in many ways. People get addicted to other people, they get addicted to technology, they get addicted to certain foods, their favourite sports teams and of course they get addicted to drugs. Addiction is categorized as a disease, which, if you go by the official definition of disease, is correct. However, it is viewed in a different light than other diseases because its symptoms are the abuse of stimulation. When we think of disease in our minds, we think of things that are happening internally only. Most diseases work this way, and that includes addiction. The problem with addiction is that you only see it working through the negative effects of overuse of a substance or action. Its the reason why so many addicts deny their addiction. Its so easy to say to yourself or someone else that they just need to stop doing it or that its not a problem because you can stop doing it anytime you want. Some addicts can and have simply stopped. Most however do not, they always find a way back to something that fills the void that the disease creates. The mechanism of addiction is so unique and abstract compared to others that addicts are simply viewed as weak or bad, and, thanks to the disease they are afflicted with and the particular substance used to feed that disease, this is often true. Addiction can turn people into a shell, they lose touch with their morality and the world leaves them behind. The current primary treatment in the United States for this disease is to talk about it with other sufferers. It occasionally works, but not usually. There are medications that are used in conjunction with talking, but they are not standard practice here. It is very difficult gauge treatment success rates because there is no way for a physician to say that you no longer have addiction. For this reason anyone can pretty much claim any number less than 100 and more than the value 0 as a success rate and not be disproven.  Alcoholics Anonymous claims a 90% success rate, probably by considering being free from addiction as part of the treatment program. While some of their biggest critics have their success rate as low as 3%. The truth is probably somewhere in between those two numbers, a narrow range, I know. The mortality rate of this disease is also unknown because it can kill in so many ways, and not just those that have it, but the un-afflicted as well. The only concrete statistic for addiction death is overdose.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, there were over 64,000 deaths attributed to drug overdose in 2016, an increase of over 10,000 from 2015 and the largest single-year increase since the start of the millennium. This increase was due in large part to opioids, specifically, synthetic opioids not called methadone. Overdoses from these synthetics have increased five-fold since 2013, from less than 4,000 to over 20,000. The specific drug responsible, fentanyl.  Considered to be 50 times stronger than morphine and the illegal drug heroin, fentanyl was created to assist cancer patients with their pain. But like everything else, fentanyl found its way to the street and into the hands of people suffering from addiction or, as they are commonly called, recreational drug users. Fentanyl is manufactured both legally and illegally in the United States and throughout the world and regardless of who is making fentanyl it is extremely lethal. The fentanyl recipe is now out and it is not going anywhere and, of course, its just the latest overdose trend; every single overdose trend from the past is still out there. So whats the solution? How do we stop this epidemic?

Some might say the drug war. Phillippine president Rodrigo Duterte implemented his own steroid-infused drug war strategy of on-site executions, sans due process of law, of drug dealers and addicts. A strategy that, bafflingly, was recently loosely endorsed by the President of The United States. So I guess the main idea behind that is to cure addiction through fear of being murdered, but that doesn’t cover the addicts who suffer their disease legally. The problem with illicit drug markets is that there is always money to be made because no matter how many manufacturers and distributors you arrest or kill, the addicts, and the market, remain and some ambitious, money-hungry person is going to step right in to fill the void. It is an eternal game of whack-a-mole. You can’t win that game, you just whack as many moles as you can until you get tired and overrun. There is only one way to make the moles disappear and that is to eliminate their reason for hanging around in the first place.

No, I am not advocating the execution of addicts, stop it, settle down. But I do want to get back to some more death statistics. I will use only 2015 data compiled from CDC reports and presented by drugwarfacts.org . In 2015 there were 55,000 drug induced deaths, which covers the things we all primarily think about when we hear the word addiction. Thats a lot, but significantly less than the 832,000 deaths attributed to Major Cardiovascular Disease; the leader in cause of death by a wide margin. But what about nicotine? That is one of the top drugs of abuse for addicts and it just so happens to be legal. 480,000 deaths attributed to tobacco in 2015, damn, thats #3 right behind non-tobacco related cancer. Alcohol, another top choice for addicts, induced 30,000 deaths and additional 20,000 from chronic liver disease. So far we are 585,000 thousand addiction deaths, thats neck-and-neck with ALL non-tobacco related cancer at number two. There are no doubt many thousands more deaths related to addiction throughout all the other categories, but the data to parse that out just isn’t there. I don’t think its a stretch to say that the disease of addiction is the deadliest disease out there today. So why is it not being more heavily researched? Why is the go-to treatment just a bunch of addicts sitting in a room talking? Is there even a cure out there to be found? Would Washington DC want to find it?

Depression and addiction seem to operate on the same brain functions and have been observed to have a close working relationship with each other. In late December Dr. Mark Gordon and former Green Beret and founder of Warrior Angels Foundation Andrew Marr appeared as guests on The Joe Rogan Experience Podcast. One of the things they discussed was hormone therapy as a treatment for the heavy residual effects of Traumatic Brain Injury in veterans. Depression being one of them. Dr. Gordon talks in depth about the relationship between hormones and brain inflammation associated with numerous psychological problems.

I’m not a doctor or biologist, but this seems like a good place to start looking for a more effective treatment, if not a cure, for the disease of addiction. The question is, do we as a society even want to help people with addiction? Or do need them as the go-to class of people to mock, criticize, and look down upon? If a person survives cancer they are viewed as strong and courageous, and its true that they are both those things. But if you beat your addiction and reclaim control of your life, its just cool you finally got your shit together. Addiction is big business here, and around the world. So while some of us may want to see our loved ones get better, our policy-makers in Washington seem to want everyone to stay sick. After all, your good health is definitely bad for business.

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