Why Opioid Addiction is Nothing New

I want to send a shout out to all my readers who downloaded a copy of We’re all Chihuahuas“Thank you again, and I truly appreciate the support!” For those who are new to my blog, I want to restate one of my goals which started about a year and a half ago; that goal is to read all 1,300 Penguin Classics and periodically document my progress through DaretobeWise.Blog. I am slowly making my way through this massive list, and the journey is definitely expanding my understanding of the world. Just recently by accident, I read two classics at the same time which covered opiate addiction in the past – Confessions of an English Opium Eater by Thomas De Quincey and Junky by William Burroughs – published in 1821 and 1953 respectively. Those dates are quite far back and surprising in my mind because I always connected drug addiction with modern times. I grew up in the age of eggs being cracked into a skillet and teachers yelling “THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ON DRUGS!!!”

giphy

My parents would always reminisce about the “good old days” when drugs were never used. There is no doubt that the current Opioid Epidemic is a public health crisis – with 116 people dying a day from overdoses in 2016 (source). However frightening that statistic is, it is even more alarming when one realizes that people have been taking opioids since 3200 B.C. (source).  Of course in ancient times, the drug was not nearly as potent as modern pharmaceuticals, but it does highlight societies’ proclivity for the substance.  Morphine – a derivative of opium – became common in the 19th century for the treatment of everyday ailments. Thomas De Quincey became hooked on the drug after a severe headache – which sounds familiar to addicts today after getting hooked on prescribed oxycodone. The temporary high one gets from these drugs is explained by De Quincey…

“Here was the secret of happiness, about which philosophers had disputed for so many ages, at once discovered; happiness might now be bought for a penny, and carried in the waistcoat-pocket; portable ecstasies might be had corked up in a pint-bottle; and peace of mind could be sent down by the mail.”

giphy1

Of course, this happiness fades, and the user is left waiting for his next fix. Eventually, the addict requires opium just to function – receiving just enough “high” to bring them back to baseline. That is the saddest part about addiction to opiates – an addict only uses so they can escape sickness. William Burroughs describes this sickness as the cells being saturated with “junk” and no longer being able to function without a regular infusion of the poison…

“You can list the symptoms of junk sickness, but the feel of it is like no other feeling and you can not put it into words…I think the use of junk causes permanent cellular alteration. Once a junkie, always a junkie.”

giphy2

This was written in the golden age of morality – 1950’s America – and highlights that opioid addiction is not a new phenomenon. Both of these writers were wrongly prescribed opiates and suffered because of doctors who failed to learn from the past. It makes me wonder if today’s epidemic would exist if we required history classes for medical students. What if today’s doctors were required to read these two books? Would they think twice about prescribing oxycodone to a teenager who just got their wisdom teeth removed? Who knows but I for one was enlightened by the experiences of these two men – helping me stay far away from any future prescription refills. What is your experience with opioids? Have you known someone who became addicted? Are they helpful in managing your pain? I love reading your comments.

The Labor of Adversity

Happy Labor Day everybody! Today most of us are eating a bounty of grilled food, spending time with family, and catching up on well needed rest. In honor of Labor Day, I wanted to write a post about my most recent book All Souls: A Family Story from Southie by Michael Patrick Macdonald. This book is a memoir which tells the author’s story of growing up in the south Boston projects during the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s. The area he specifically grew up in was referred to as “Southie” and was primarily inhabited by poor white-Irish Americans. The name Southie was given to this area because of its geography and because of its long history of racial tensions. In the 70’s, the city of Boston decided that Southie needed more integration and subsequently started busing black students into neighborhood schools. This led to riots, murders, and a host of drop outs by Southie teens who didn’t want to deal with dangerous race wars in between class hours. In addition to school integration, Boston began to give Southie housing to immigrants which added fuel to the already racially hostile neighborhood. The race riots and integration protests eventually subsided but the tight-knit Irish community had one big problem that would never go away. That big problem was Whitey Bulger. Whitey ran a drug syndicate that brought more cocaine per capita into Southie than any other neighborhood in the country. This cocaine led to a plethora of drug related violence, deaths, and jail time for all age groups in the Southie projects. The author grew up with 10 brothers and sisters who were all raised by his single mother. The book is full of tragic stories about his siblings and their involvement with illegal activities. In the end, four of his siblings died because of murder, suicide, or negligence by the healthcare system. Sadly, all members of the Southie neighborhood directly knew of someone who was affected by drugs. The ironic thing about Southie was that people refused to talk or snitch to the police and most upheld Whitey Bulger as a celebrity. The FBI would eventually pursue Whitey and force him to flee his beloved Boston. The hardships of this book are quite depressing but the author decided to stay in Southie and would lead support groups for those who had lost loved ones and bring out the truth of Southie’s violent inner workings.

The story of Southie is a sad realization that there are places in America where kids and families are constantly surrounded by hate, violence, and addiction. The beautiful thing about America is that people have opportunities to move up and out of neighborhoods like these and make better lives. The author of this book lived in Southie but chose a different path then his drug dealer friends.  I commend all those people who have worked hard to overcome adversity and they are the ones I will think of this Labor Day. No matter what your current condition is, you can work to improve yourself and your environment. I have been blessed with a very privileged life and I know it is easy for me to say these things; T\that is why I loved this book because MacDonald is a perfect example of someone who lived through the worst and came out of it with his head held high. This Labor Day let’s assess our own situation, work towards a better future, and always believe that we can make the best out of any circumstance.