To my tweens,
Last weekend you asked me, “What is an opioid crisis? Are we at war with a country?”
No sweet children, the opioid crisis is a different kind of war. When I was a nurse, cancer patients suffered from unimaginable pain. Researchers invented pain medicine that could last for hours, allowing them to spend their last days at home, instead of inside a hospital!
It seemed like a great discovery, until these new pain medications were given to all kinds of patients.
What we now know is that they are highly addictive. “Addiction” means even if a bad habit is wrecking a person’s life, they have a hard time stopping. Some opioids have been found to be so addictive, that the FDA asked inventors to stop making them.
“Dependence” is different from addiction, and it means a person gets sick if he/she stops ingesting something. An example would be if I get a headache if I don’t drink coffee in the morning. You’ll hear people say they are “addicted” to coffee, but they are exaggerating.
Addiction happens when a certain part of the brain overreacts. When I do something I enjoy, like making a craft, a section of my brain lights up! It’s a happy light. But for some people, when they take an opioid, their light is too bright. This section turns into a glaring light that makes it hard for their brain to see anything else. Their brains want those medications more than you want your iPad or time with your friends. Their bodies are tricked into believing they may die without them.
What meds are opioids?
Officials who control these medications are scrambling to decide which patients should still take them. The drugs have many names: Vicodin, Percocet, Codeine, Oxycontin, Oxycodone, and morphine. They also go by other names, and the illegal opioid drug name is heroin.
Obviously we don’t want dying patients to suffer, but what about patients who get headaches every day? What about patients who are recovering from major surgeries? These decisions are very complicated for healthcare providers. And unfortunately, these medications are very common and inside many home medicine cabinets across the country.
It’s important to know very few medications light up the brain in this way. Advil, Tylenol, antibiotics, vitamins, aspirin, cough syrups you buy at the grocery store … none of these medications can cause addiction like this. Cigarettes are not opioids, but they are highly addictive, which is why I always tell you to know what you’re putting into your body before you try it.
The cost of addiction
In the United States, we have far too many people addicted to opioids and it’s causing problems like crime and homelessness. Families are being ripped apart. I want us to keep talking about these issues, because eventually you’ll be faced with an offer to smoke a cigarette or take a medication someone took out of their medicine cabinet from home.
I was offered my first cigarette and alcohol in the 8th grade, and I went to a great school in a small town. It will happen. Practicing moral courage is so hard, but these are the big decisions in life. Knowing how to say no when offered things that can derail your future is not something to take lightly.
I’m here to help. I’m always and forever here (even when you wish I’d stop talking so you can binge-watch YouTube).
Wishing you were still babies,