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Big Pharm, Cravings, and The Age of Ultron

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First off, I am honored to be featured as the Addictionlands “June Expert”. Then again, my inclination is that anyone who calls themselves an expert has too much certitude for me to trust. Instead, think of these as observations from numerous perspectives and years of experience.  

Here goes:

We live in a world that wants you to get high. In fact, companies need you to get high in order to exist. Their job depends on it.

Right now, pharmaceutical companies are churning out addicts in record numbers. The pain management industry is lucrative. To live in chronic pain is to truly be sick and suffering, so it is an essential, and even compassionate service, but the spin-off is, pills in so many cabinets are creating an incredible number of heroin addicts. The curious teen no longer steals a Bud Lite from their dad’s supply, they take some Vicodin. They learn to chew the pill rather than swallow for a quicker high. They learn how to snort. Soon enough, they learn what it means to be dopesick: the need to do more for the same high, and to maintain a supply.

 An opiate addict is a massive consumer for big pharm. (A pain management client times ten.) But instead of managing their pain, the prescription use causes intense suffering and sickness.

 Sweaty, shakey, and dopesick-driven desperate behaviors follow to fund their habit. Someone they know tells them heroin is much more economical. They say no at first, but the sickness hits, and to stay in that sickness is to suffer a kind of hell where the clock stops and there seems no way out. The urge to stop the sickness is as strong as the life instinct to survive, as natural as a drowning man who seeks to surface and breathe some air.

 Snorting that first pack of heroin once turns into snorting it twice turns into a needle into your arm.

 Soon you’re in treatment for chemical dependency, and the irony is, a pharmacy rep has probably visited the staff of this very treatment center, touting the benefits of anti-craving medications. Big Pharm wins on both ends. 

 That said, I think it’s a good thing that pharmaceutical companies are getting more involved in treatment recovery.   Some of the greatest medicines in the world were created in an effort to reduce the symptoms and side effects of other medicines.

Taking meds to cure the results of medication abuse sounds like the kind of insanity therapists actually treat, but from my observations, these anti-craving medications are under-utilized. The cause of this varies. At times it is due to an addict who has a hidden, perhaps unconscious agenda to get high again.  At other times, it is due to pressure from longstanding NA/AA folks or similar attitudes of “it’s not really staying sober” if you’re using medications.  If the addict fresh in recovery is desperate and ready to follow a sponsor’s every word, such hardline anti medication becomes an order, not a suggestion. Questioning a sponsor is seen as self-will run riot.

Thank God nobody stopped me from taking Antabuse. It was just one weapon in an arsenal I used to fight addiction. These days, 23 years later, my mouth involuntarily waters at the sight of a beer, and I feel an electric tingle in my spine when watching a movie where cocaine is being snorted. Fortunately, I stayed sober long enough to expect and deal with this. Many never make it this far. Graves and urns are full of such unfortunates.

A supervisor of ten years where I worked as a therapist used to say, “Manageability is doing the best you can with what you got.” Make the best decisions possible with what’s at your disposal. Treatment need to us all the tools to tackle the craving brain, even if it means using the same industry that created the addiction in the first place. Yes, addiction results in some strange bedfellows.  Iron man created Ultron in order to serve mankind with disastrous results, but he then also worked to defeat his creation.

Addiction therapist, you are now an avenger. 

Left unchecked, the craving brain is one of the most insidious, baffling (and yes, cunning and powerful) forces on this planet earth, and certainly the biggest threat to sobriety. Addicts are driven. Resourceful. Ingenious, all driven by urges and focus to get high.  The craving brain has direct access to a members choices, while we as therapists squawk on the outside of them, making promises they may have no faith in and asking for decisions that don’t make sense. The voice of the therapist becomes a little louder when the voice of addiction is turned down.

If there was a way to provide a spiritual awakening with medicine, would we deny that? If it were available, I certainly believe it would be the best medicine of all. It certainly is not, and of course the premise is contrary to the nature of spiritual growth itself, but perhaps in order to reach the essential elements of the 12 steps, and fulfill some of the promises of recovery, treatment professionals and community support groups need not defy science.

 Arm the addict, save some lives.

 

About the author:

Mark Matthews has a Masters in Counseling and has worked in addiction and mental health treatment for nearly 20 years. He is a graduate of the University of Michigan and has been in recovery from his own addiction since 1992. An avid writer and runner, many of his novels feature drug addiction including MILK-BLOOD which has been a bestselling chemical dependency novel on Amazon since its release. Matthews has run over 13 marathons including Boston, New York, and Chicago and has written about the power of running as a natural high in Chasing the Dragon

 He blogs at Running, Writing, and Chasing the Dragon, and can be reached at xmarkm@gmail.com



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