The American abuse of prescription pills

Updated: Dec 14, 2018

Every 19 minutes an American die of an overdose involving pills, which were initially prescribed by a doctor to ease pain. Most of them are opioids: a class of drugs that includes morphine, oxycodone, codeine and on the illegal market, heroine.

The number of minutes may not tell you a whole lot, because it is hard to compare sizes of countries and their problems, so what I can also tell you is that accidental overdoses (people dying of an overdose often don’t intend to do so) are now the leading cause of accidental deaths in the United States, surpassing car crashes.

Usually the addiction begins when a patient goes to the doctor with back pain or an injury. The doctor prescribe pills within the category ‘opioids’, which will ease the pain and give the patient a pleasant feeling for a few hours. Opioids are also highly addictive, though, so after the initial treatment the patient might begin to self-medicate and from there the slope is slippery.

It is a problem all over the United States, and when I stayed in East Tennessee this February, I read a lot of stories in local newspapers about prescription drug abuse, and people told me about their colleagues, family members and sons and daughters of friends, who are basically paralysed by this epidemic.

Everybody seemed to know someone with an addiction.

So I talked to a few therapists, two pastors, locals and the people behind the awareness campaign ‘Count it! Lock it Drop it! – Don’t Be An Accidental Drug Dealer’ and then wrote a story for the Danish newspaper Kristeligt Dagblad. It was published earlier this May.

Christianity plays a big part in Tennessee, and one part I find interesting about this severe problem in their society, is that the church has changed attitude towards addiction. Just two decades ago, an addiction was seen as a moral issue and the church wouldn’t have anything to do with the sinners or their family, I was told by both an experienced therapist and a priest.

But that has (finally) changed and now some churches even have recovery sessions for relatives, who often live in shame. Brooke Hartman, a Methodist pastor in Powell Church outside Knoxville, told me that the church would be ‘blind to what is going on’, if it didn’t act.

She is in charge of a recovery ministry every week.

“The perception that an addict is a bad person is simply not true. God loves every one of us,” Brooke Hartman says.

This edition of the local newspaper Knoxville News Sentinel gave me the first hint that something is on the wrong track in East Tennessee. The featured picture on this article is from the noticeboard inside the Blount County Sheriff Department, where they also have a Count it! Lock it! Drop it!-box for all the unused and expired medication.

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