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[ Opinion ]

It’s more Than An “Opiate” epidemic

The epidemic. Everyone is talking about it. Opioid addiction and the crisis around heroin and prescription pain killers. Talking about it is not a bad thing. But as I sit here, myself in recovery, and watch all the news about the opiate crisis, I cant help but wonder, what about the rest of us?

The journalists, the “advocates”, and the politicians are all talking about the Opioid epidemic, at least that’s the way it appears from my view. So where do the millions of people like me fall into the picture? The people who suffer from the same substance abuse disorder, just not from the same headline grabbing substances. Are we any less of an addict because we chose alcohol, crack, meth or any number of other non-opioids that are available on the streets? Are we less deserving of funding and treatment because we have yet to reach the benchmark of 78 fatal overdoses a day? Do we need to integrate more drugs into upperclass white America before we get people to start talking? 

I am not trying to be insensitive towards the tens of thousands of people that are affected by opioid addiction on a daily basis, but are opioids really the problem? I am an addict. I am in recovery and I am very vocal about it. My employers, friends, family and -thanks to the internet-complete strangers know my story. I fight the stigma every day and while some people congratulate me, just as many seem to think less of me. But addiction is my disease and I refuse to hide it. Opioids were not my drug. In fact, I never liked them to begin with. One taste of heroin was enough for me to say fuck that, never again. I spent my active years chasing a meth high.

So many people are dying that the country has no choice but to focus on what is happening. Overdoses and deaths are most common in Opioid addicts. The problem, however, is not opioids, it is addiction. And it’s not all about people dying, most in active addiction are living lives that lead to destruction. The abuse of heroin, morphine, methadone, Suboxone, hydrocodone, oxycodone and the like, are the symptom or result of addiction. We can battle the opioids all day, every day, but there is very little we can do to stop the bleeding heroin is causing without treating the real issue, the root cause. I understand that addiction to prescription pain killers normally results from an injury rather than a mental escape, but the physical dependence is just the same. The drug overtakes you. Withdrawal is still painful. The voice inside your head is just as loud as a user who started on heroin. Addiction does not care why you started using. The only thing addiction cares about is how quickly it can hijack your body and convince your brain that drugs are the only answer.

Yes, there is no doubt that irresponsible doctors and pharmaceutical companies play a role, but they are not the end all be all. If we have learned anything over the years, it is that what can’t be attained legally will be attained illegally. If prescription pain killers become harder to get, then the use of heroin will go up. An addict does’t care where or how they get their high, all they care about is getting there.

So why is it that the opiate epidemic is getting the attention that the problem with drug addiction deserves? In my opinion that answer is anonymity. Yes, addiction is being spoken about a lot more over the recent years. It is slowly coming out of the shadows and progress is being made. But it appears to me that the empathy society is beginning to show, comes from those who use opiates. I don’t see (as) many methamphetamine users “recovering out loud”.

Unfortunately, I don’t yet see any light at the end of this stigmatized tunnel. People are still afraid to admit that they are addicts, recovering or not.  This should no longer be the case. The days of hiding in the shadows needs to come to an end. The longer we stay quiet, the longer we  will suffer.

In a world where people hide behind computer screens, rely on social media for their news, and entertain themselves with streaming video services instead of getting up and going out, a world where smartphones are common place and conversations are now written words instead of face to face, it is no wonder that addiction is not in the open. Opioid addiction is so vastly known about because you can’t go anywhere online without reading about it. It is mentioned in news media every day, it is even talked about in political debates. It seems as if it’s not in the media, on social media or on a Michael Moore produced documentary that it does not exist. No one looks beyond what is right in front of them. The need for knowledge in this generation goes no further then curiosity satisfaction or a need to know basis.

If we want the stigma to end, we have to fight for it. If we want the same medical benefits as those with any other chronic disease, we have to fight for it. We should not have to wait until we are at rock bottom, knocking on death’s door, before we get treatment. We need to stop being anonymous. The only way to change our standing in society is to start standing up for ourselves, not waiting for the rest of the world to catch up. Want treatment instead of incarceration for non-violent drug offenders? Fight for it. Want insurance companies to pay for more than 28 days of inpatient rehab? Fight for it. Want to help correct this stigma, and help those who are too ashamed to reach out for help that exists? Then speak up and let people know you’re proud to be in recovery!

As an individual, our voice gets lost among the millions. But if we band together, we can make enough noise to be heard, enough noise to force them to no longer ignore us. Heck, we live in a day in age in which we have our own podium’s to speak from. Use the internet, use social media. If we flood the internet with our success stories, with our reasoning, with ways to help the average person understand how our minds work, at some point it will be read, our voices will be heard. 

Rising death tolls and overdoses have woken up the country to the opioid problem. I have stopped counting the number of friends I have lost to heroin. I attend more funerals than weddings, and i’m young, it shouldn’t be this way.  We are not scum, we are not losers, we are not morally unacceptable or weak. We are people just like every non-addict in the world. Hiding in the shadows will never get that point across.