03 Nov

A Nation in Pain: Addiction and Death in America

We are a nation in pain. And as a result, we are a nation with an increasing drug addiction and overdose problem. Formerly the province of mostly black Americans in poor neighborhoods, heroin addiction and deaths among white suburban teenagers are increasing at a rate that has been formally designated as an epidemic. Today new reports came out stating that the death rate for white middle-aged Americans without a college degree is climbing at an alarming rate. The main causes of death? Alcoholism, drug addiction and suicide. These statistics are reported as highly unusual, but there is little attempt made to explain them. Why is it that none of the discussions about the abuse of prescription pain medications (often the precursor to heroin), and alcohol abuse ever mention emotional pain? Data mine reported that,

“Enough painkillers were prescribed by American doctors during one month in 2010 to medicate every American around the clock for an entire month.”

Yes, these medications are way too easy to acquire, and no doubt the American Medical Association will be setting new guidelines soon to address the issue of over prescription of addictive drugs. But that will still not address the reason why people take them. Since most people actually need them for a very short period of time after an injury or surgery, and given the numerous side effects they produce, why do people want to keep taking them long after they are needed for physical pain? If you ask them, or their doctors, the answer is often that they are still in pain. (Never mind that opioids not only suppress pain but also most other feelings, as well as all but shutting down the digestive system.) The question more doctors, nurses, parents, and concerned others need to be asking is: Where does it really hurt?

Psychic pain like anxiety, depression and hopelessness have escalated in the last ten years, based on the use of drugs and alcohol to dull them, yet there is no national discourse about the correlation between substance abuse and ten years of war and an unstable economy. When we talk about the personal cost of war, we rightly recognize the severe traumas suffered by the members of our armed forces. But we neglect the national sense of despair about the future, the guilt over the people we are killing abroad, and the fear that we, or our loved ones, will be harmed by the multitudes around the world who hate us.

I would like to see at least one of the many candidates running for President of the United States speaking out about the demoralization of the American public caused by our engagement in multiple wars, the endless stress over making a decent living, and the lack of resources to address the resultant emotional distress. The collective psyche of the American public, and the state of our mental health, need to be recognized as a critical segment of the state of the nation.

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