I met a young man who said he wanted to get off a substitute opiate he was taking to help him get off opiate pain medication he said originally was being taken for legitimate reasons.
I know this sounds complicated but bear with me because there’s more. He was taking a fairly low dose of this opiate substitute, and there seemed no medical reason other than some mild discomfort he couldn’t stop completely, yet he could not. His tolerance for discomfort was near zero.
As it turns out, there was more to the story, much more. He apparently had been a drug abuser before his injury, which netted him the opiate prescription. In fact, he had been a prescription opiate abuser and “sales-person.” When he started on his own much stronger prescription, his life spun out of control and his parents, who controlled the purse strings, demanded he sober up. His opiate substitute therapy was a negotiated settlement to avoid inpatient treatment.
It also turns out he was abusing just about every other medication he had managed to find a symptom – and a doctor – for. He was taking prescription sleep medication, medication for ADHD, two medications for anxiety and one for depression besides the opiate substitute, not to mention another medication to ease the alleged withdrawal symptoms from the opiate substitute. He also was scamming to get additional opiate substitute meds and stealing various assorted medications from family members. He felt bad about the stealing, was oblivious to his drug-induced bad behavior and believed he needed most of the meds he was taking. He was a walking billboard for medically assisted drug dependency.
This whole complicated mess turned up a couple of important lessons for me. Doctors are human and can be fooled, especially if the patient is convinced they need the medication. Doctors work for us, and it is our responsibility to monitor what we take and what we need. It also is our responsibility to look at our attitude as a society toward taking a pill for everything.
When I talked to this young man’s family members, I found no one tried to talk to either parent after 8 p.m. because all siblings were aware that they would be stoned on sleeping pills. When I interviewed Mom and the questions got uncomfortable, she reached in her purse for anti-anxiety meds. Her tolerance for discomfort was probably less than her son’s.
I think rather than looking for culprits, we should be looking for solutions. One of them is certainly taking responsibility for our own health rather than expecting the doctor to “fix” everything. I also think we need to look at our own attitudes about the potential overuse of medication and the long-term impact it’s having on the drug problems we are experiencing.
• Rick Atwater is a licensed clinical professional counselor.