By Mark E. Smith
Authors of online “blogs” are always tracking the statistics of their readerships. And, here’s a statistic of my readership that horrifies me: 25% of you will die of a drug-related death. No, I’m not talking heroin or cocaine or any illicit drug. Rather, it’s the prescribed medications – the benzos, the oxys, the hydros – that, statistically 50% of you are addicted to, will kill half of you. It’s a catch phrase known as “accidental overdose,” or more discretely, such conditions known as “heart arrhythmia.”
See, according to government statistics, those with disabilities are four times as likely to be substance abusers than the general population, and 50% of those with spinal cord injuries, for example, are addicts. Think about that: If you go to a disability event, every other person who you meet is addicted to prescription drugs – and half of them will die from it. As a population, we’re not WheelchairJunkies; we are just junkies.
Interestingly, there’s a scientific basis why those of us with disabilities are so prone to addiction. Modern research into addiction causation shows a direct link to emotional trauma – where we abuse substances to both mask and maintain trauma. On the one hand, substance abuse can be an escape, but it often also ties in to a deep-level psychology where we’re the only creature known that actually strives to “re-inflict” trauma unto ourselves, “maintaining” it throughout our lives (a simple – but tragic – example is that 76% of women abused by a spouse were abused as children, unwittingly “maintaining” the trauma throughout their lives by being drawn toward unhealthy relationships). Disability often has any number of emotional impacts attached, resulting in trauma, so it’s the prevalence of trauma surrounding disability that dramatically escalates the risk of substance abuse.
And, make no mistake, our culture and the medical community supports the abuse of drugs to address disability. If a crack-head walks into a doctor’s office, they call the police. But, roll in to that same doctor’s office in a wheelchair, with a spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, or cerebral palsy, and the prescription pad comes out. What would you like? Klonopin, Baclofen, Oxycontin, Soma? No problem. What – you want to up your dosage? No problem. And, no one questions you – not the doctor, not the pharmacist, not your family. Why? Because no one wants to doubt your physical struggles, and everyone wants you pain-free. But, they don’t know that you’re blazed out of your mind, that the drugs have bonded with your dopamine and endorphin levels, where the prefrontal cortex of your brain just drives you toward more drugs, more drugs, more drugs – and you are metabolically a full-blown addict.
But, what’s even more awesome is that you don’t think you’re an addict. From rationalizing in your own mind that your disability necessitates medication, to the legitimization of it all from the medical community, you’re right on course – there’s no problem. What’s more, we know that addicts lose the capacity to truly know that they’re addicts – the drugs literally crank up the denial chemistry in the brain. At best, addicts can dish-out victim mentality, “I’m fucked up.” And, in ways, they’re right. For decades, we’ve heard that the first step to recovery is admitting that there’s a problem. However, we know now, through modern addiction studies, that while addicts may occasionally voice that they have a problem, that they’re fucked up, they truly don’t have the capacity to recognize that they have a literal disease that’s killing them (and, it is a disease in that it alters your biology beyond your control) – it’s usually only after intervention, detox, and months of focused recovery that one truly realizes one’s addiction. So often a lack of willpower is socially equated with addiction (and it can be argued still that a lack of handling stresses in life, along with a genetic predisposition toward addiction can begin the process, itself). However, recent studies show that once addicted, the most instinctive drives of the brain are effected, and conscious volitional control is lost – that’s a disease.
And, so if you’re reading this, taking prescribed pills right on schedule, with them in neat rows, lined up on the kitchen counter, don’t worry, you’re not an addict. There’s no problem. The drugs are there just to help you function normally, as directed.
And, if you’re the loved one of someone whose medication has him or her agitated, nodding off, eyes glazed over, don’t worry, he or she is totally fine – just keep telling yourself that, due to disability, he or she needs the prescribed medication. It’s OK – it’s all normal, there’s no problem.
Yet, there’s nothing normal about any of it, and it’s a life-threatening health issue that kills – and, to top it off, there’s virtually no treatment. Tragically, even if, as an addict, you expressed your problem to most addiction specialists (which you would never really do because, again, addicts lie to everyone, especially themselves), even the specialists wouldn’t believe you. You’re a person with a disability taking prescribed drugs – there’s no problem. So, even if you or your loved ones strive to get you help with addiction, the medical community isn’t trained to offer it to you as one with a disability. In fact, even the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services publicly states, “Substance abuse prevention, intervention and treatment services are not physically, attitudinally, cognitively, or financially accessible, to persons with disabilities for many reasons.”
And, so the question becomes, as those with disabilities, when we start off with a lack of accountability by turning to medication, then use the medical system to become drug addicts, and the medical community legitimizes it, with no ability to treat it once it becomes a disease, what happens? Well… we die.
However, there are a few ancillary solutions. Firstly, toward those with disabilities, as a community – and especially within the medical community – we must all be aware of this health crisis, where the acceptance of use and prescription process must be dramatically curbed. We have to acknowledge the problem and stop it before the pen hits the prescription pad.
Secondly, if you’re the loved one of an addict with a disability, and your loved one’s addiction has become your family’s problem – and it always does – get help for yourself and your family, where you’re not a codependent to the addict. Addicts have a clinical narcissism where they lose the capacity to care about anyone but themselves and their addiction, and they will gladly emotionally, mentally, and financially destroy their families without an inkling of conscience. Addicts slowly consume relationships, and you have to break-free of that cycle, no matter how much you love that person (or, more aptly, how much you loved that person before he or she became an addict, as again, the brain changes so much under addiction that the original person no longer exists).
Therefore, as individuals and a community, let us stop addiction before it starts. If we have a loved one who’s an addict, let us have the strength to prioritize ourselves and our families to distance ourselves from the addict. And, if you’re already an addict – which you’re truly incapable of knowing – there’s statistically no U-turn for you: You’re simply buying time among the living dead.