About 40 Americans die each day from overdosing on prescription painkillers, according to the CDC. In 2013, an estimated 1.9 million people abused or were dependent on prescription opiates. In 2014, the CDC found that doctors wrote 259 million prescriptions for painkillers in a single year, which is enough for every U.S. adult to have a bottle of pills. Americans consume 80% of the entire world’s painkillers. What the hell is going on in this country? Are we in that much pain that we need a prescription for every adult? Here’s another shocking statistic:
According to the Social Security Administration, in 2013 disability payments were made to 10,228,364 people, up 139,625 claims from 2012 when there were 10,088,739 disabled beneficiaries. Disabled beneficiaries have increased 49.7 percent from a decade ago when there were 6,830,714 beneficiaries. From 2009 when President Obama took office until now, that number has jumped 14.3 percent up from 8,945,376 beneficiaries.
Are we getting sicker and more disabled as a nation? The numbers certainly would support that theory. It’s shocking that in 2016, with a world of information and research at our fingertips about how to get healthier, happier and improve yourself physically and mentally that more people than ever are turning to prescription painkillers. Is there really a physical pain problem in the country or is it a mindset problem? Manufacturing jobs and other manual labor jobs are at the lowest percentage of the total jobs in this country’s history according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The shift has been steadily away from manual labor jobs into service worker jobs for many decades. Perhaps it’s the interaction with other humans and technology in the service worker industry that’s causing so many to turn to opiates. Whatever the cause, it’s clear that millions of people need to chemically alter their state to get though work, or they just drop out of the labor force and collect disability. Either way, it appears there are thousands of doctors willing to provide some pain pills.
Personally, since being diagnosed with a severe autoimmune disease I’ve had prescriptions for painkillers, NSAIDS and other drugs. None of which have benefitted me in any way other than a very temporary distraction from the pain. I never renewed the prescriptions because they didn’t stop the pain. And, frankly, I was afraid I would get so used to the feeling while on them that I would become addicted. I almost did. I thought I needed them, but after I ran out, I realize that I didn’t. Why? Painkillers don’t really eliminate all pain. They block receptors in your body that signal the body to feel pain. Pain is an indicator of possible damage to the body. Despite blocking the sensation of pain, there is still damage being done while on painkillers. Stated differently, pain pills are rarely a long-term solution. They are designed for immediate relief from trauma and for temporary use. Painkillers can have severe side effects on every organ in your body, especially the liver and kidneys. They can kill you. They kill 40 people a day in this country from people abusing them.
A DIFFERENT VIEW OF PAIN
“Life is pain. Anyone telling you different is selling something.” — Wesley in The Princess Bride.
I love the above quote. It’s meant to provoke laughter, but there is a bit of truth to it as well. See, pain is in fact a part of life. Life is full of sensations and feelings and pain is but one of them. It’s a normal part of life and always will be. Someone who believes this will be less likely to dope themselves up with pills, unless they are used for a specific purpose with an end date for their use. An individual on painkillers, especially those with a chemical addiction, (which happens very frequently with prescription drugs) must move away from the belief that pain, any amount of pain, is something to be avoided at all costs. The focus must move from masking the pain to developing strength to defeat the pain. We must focus as a country on addressing the reasons why millions believe they need pills to get through life. We must address why we have moved from a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” society to a vicodin and Paxil society.
Author’s Note: I’m not speaking about the people who have had severe physical trauma and rely on painkillers because of the tragedy. That number of people represents a small fraction of total narcotics users. I’m speaking about drug use at epidemic rates among a cross section of the United States.
CONCLUSION: The opiate addiction in the United States is a serious problem that we cannot take lightly. I would venture to say anyone reading this know someone who has a reliance on painkillers. I’ve been on them myself. This is a major problem that has moved millions of the workforce to drop out altogether and millions of others going through their workday in a drug-induced haze. This is a health crisis and I believe the solution is that individuals must focus on improving their health and talk with doctors about how to do that before resorting to narcotics and potentially toxic drugs. Millions are now chemically addicted to these drugs. They cannot function without them. Does that sound right to you? Is that how we should treat dealing with pain?
P.S. The best advice I ever got about dealing with pain was from my father Marlon. He told me to do what I could to fix my body and if I still had pain, to ignore it. He said, “Son, nothing lasts forever. Especially pain.” I remember that everyday. I focus everyday on improving my body and preventing pain from coming. When it does come, I remember that pain doesn’t last unless you focus on it. Whatever you focus on gets amplified in your mind. I’m not saying to ignore the fact you have pain. I’m simply saying that you should do what you can to prevent it and strengthen yourself while remembering that pain is a part of life. It usually doesn’t require a prescription to deal with. Certainly not 259 million of them. Something must change soon.