The First Responder Who Becomes The “Accidental Addict”

By Dr. Maryann Rosenthal Ph.D.

Today, millions of Americans suffer with all kinds of physical concerns that cause them serious pain.  They are in need of pain management to help them function and are often prescribed appropriate medications to help them cope and manage their condition. However, because these drugs are so powerful and their need so great, bodies can build up a tolerance for the medications.  They then need more of the drug to obtain the same effect.  Eventually they can become overly dependent on these drugs, which can have a very negative effect on their quality of their life.

Prescription drug abuse is the Nation’s fastest-growing drug problem and the “Accidental Addict” can happen to all ages and in all lifestyles especially first responders.  According to a National Survey on Drug Use and Health in 2009, more than 5 million Americans misused prescription painkillers in a one-month period.  “Daily, 50 people in our nation die from unintentional prescription opioid overdoses and daily, 20 times that number are admitted to hospital emergency departments for opioid overdoses,” said John Eadie, director of the Prescription Monitoring Program Center of Excellence at Brandeis University.  As outrageous as that sounds, a huge majority – more than 70% of those prescriptions were from friends and relatives.

There are many reasons for the rapid and growing abuse of prescription drugs.  One is how easily accessible the drugs are from doctors, family and friends.  The other is the diminished perception of risk while taking these legal drugs.  After all, many times these drugs are prescribed for real pain and unfortunately, patients are not always good consumers and do not question their doctors when addictive medications are prescribed. Doctors tell patients to “get ahead of the pain – if you wait, it will take longer to manage your pain.” So your brain sends a signal that the pain is coming and you need to be prepared.  Better take another pill. And the cycle of abuse begins. These factors all add to the epidemic and deadly problem of prescription drug abuse in our Nation today.

Many medications are potent but they serve a purpose for relieving pain and suffering. Treating a person with chronic pain is especially challenging.  The question I always ask myself when a chronic pain patient is coming into treatment is, “how can I help my patient manage their pain and still have a quality of life.

The belief that an addict must reach rock bottom before they can get any help is completely inaccurate.  The fact is that the earlier we can get an addict into treatment, the better chance we have of helping them. Families, loved ones, employers, health care professionals and the legal system can and should require the addict to get treatment for their addiction.

I have written much on how to maintain peace and stability and “future proof” our lives to withstand the inevitable storms of change that we encounter every day.  The same applies to “future proofing” ourselves and our loved ones against the devastating disease of addiction.  It is no longer alcohol or the isolated use of drugs but the complicated interaction of substances for pain management that has caused us to look at addiction with an entirely different perspective.

There is no other terminal illness that is more treatable than addiction.  I know that by treating the social, psychological, psychiatric and physiological factors that are part of every addiction we can “future proof “ ourselves and our loved ones, giving them the best possible chance for the quality of life we all deserve.

Although trends in the treatment of substance abuse come and go, there are evidence based practices that remain constant and will help Americans and employers improve productivity, reduce workplace injuries and decrease health care costs.

By combining these two elements, we can greatly improve the success rate of treatment and improve the overall quality of life for our patients by freeing them from both their addiction and the pain that helped lead them to it.  There are millions of people living successful, full lives in recovery.  This is a disease that has hope and a solution, and the solution is treatment.

Maryann Rosenthal, Ph.D has a unique background and career working in both the business and clinical sectors of health care. She has extensive experience in the field of chemical dependency and recovery, as well as the assessment, education, and management of chronic pain and addiction. Dr. Rosenthal served on the Board of Directors for Sias International University in Zhengzhou, China. Appointed by the Governor of California, she served on the State of California’s Developmental Disabilities Board and has been a member of the Domestic Violence Council since 2000 and a founding member of the San Diego Elder Abuse Prevention Project.

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