Column: Our drug epidemic and why it happened

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The headlines are filled with data on the epidemic of opioid use in America.

We now have over 50,000 deaths due to drug overdose per year. And it’s not only the young of our nation that are overdosing on painkillers.

There is now a new term called “death by despair” refers to white middle-aged men and women who are overdosing due to depression. Alcohol abuse has risen by 50 percent since 2000 and now 12.7 percent of Americans or one in eight are alcoholic.

Now we see that recreational marijuana is legal in California, Oregon, Nevada, Colorado, Washington and Alaska. And in case you’re tempted to try some pot you should know that in our clinical settings we now treat amotivational syndrome due to long-term marijuana use and it consists of blunted emotions, loss of drive and impaired memory process.
Back in 1932 Aldous Huxley wrote “Brave New World” where he described a population that was so zonked out on the drug Soma that they had little interest in the world around them. We are fast heading in that direction but too bad for us all these drugs appear to have rather sinister side effects.

Opioid use will slow heart rate and eventually reduce the person’s ability to enjoy natural pleasures like food, exercise and sex. It may also kill you. Long-term alcohol use will produce liver disease, cirrhosis, pancreatitis, and esophageal issues.
The nation is in the midst of a drug crisis that shows no signs of letting up. It is always wise to understand the many reasons for this epidemic in order to have a chance to hold back the tide.
Social critics have suggested a variety of causes for this cultural tidal wave of painkiller use and alcohol abuse. Here are the leading reasons:
1. America is a highly competitive nation and our singular value system is to win, win, win. This is the essential dictum of a capitalistic society and there is no alternative position that gives our competitive drive any balance.

So what we get is a population that is always in overdrive. Pro athletes are in overdrive. Kids who play sports are in overdrive. And parents are in overdrive. So it is no surprise that everyone turns to drugs to find some relief and a way to ease up.
2.  Salary stagnation has been with us since 1980. But the cost of living always goes up. The result is that every family is forced to overwork just to keep up with the Jones. This means exhaustion and on the heels of exhaustion, you will find people going to doctors or the local liquor store to get some extra energy in the form of your chemical of choice.
3. The information explosion has been with us since the 1960s and with it comes a dizzying array of media outlets to hook into. And the unrelenting amount of information that we must digest produces anxiety and a feeling of being flooded.

In Donna Haraway’s “Cyborg Manifesto” she warns that our fusion with technology, cars, phones, radios, and computers is fast changing us into cyborgs and I think she’s right. But the problem is that we are still human and our bodies just can’t take it.
4. Related to all the above is the epidemic of both psychosomatic and hypochondriac illnesses that every doctor is treating.

These psychosomatic symptoms like headaches, back pain, digestive problems and/or hypochondriasis are all connected to anxiety or repressed anger and in fact often require medication to treat. And some of these medicines are painkillers.
These are just a few of the cultural pressures that have produced the drug overuse issue. And what pray tell are we to do about all this? Here are a few suggestions:
1. Get more sleep. I recommend at least 8.5 hours per night. This requires you to turn off the tube by about 9 p.m.
2. Take long walks in nature without your cell phones with you. Nature is the great elixir of life.
3. Exercise daily or play a sport that you enjoy.
4. Find a hobby or art form that you can do at least once or twice per week
5. Read more literature. “Moby Dick” will take you many many hours to get through but you will be better off for it.
6. Meditate or do yoga. This is fun and relaxing for you and you will meet some nice folks in the studio.
7. And if your symptoms or drug use persists, you can’t stop using or if you find that you need more and more of it, seek local professional help. There is no shame in getting help if the drug has gotten its claws into you and you can’t get free of it.

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