By Warren Heggarty
When we think about drug abuse, most of us conjure an image of a young person taking illegal street drugs. A more likely image, though might be a middle-aged person taking drugs which require a doctors’ prescription. This is according to the Penington Institute’s latest drug report (Penington Institute, 2017).
The report found that people were misusing prescription pain killers and heroin more than ever. Between 2008 and 2014 there was a 90 per cent rise in prescription opioid deaths. The main cause of trouble involved using opioids in combination with other drugs or alcohol.
Surprisingly, 68 per cent of accidental deaths in 2016 involved people aged 30 to 59 (Ferguson, 2018).
One of the reasons why over-the-counter sales of opioids (like codeine) were ended in February 2018 was in response to this rising problem. The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has suggested even tighter regulation (Powell, 2018).
This misuse of drugs might prompt the question “Why are people doing this to themselves?’ But given the fact that life inevitably involves suffering, a better question might be “What is it that makes people NOT want to misuse drugs?” Life is hard, but drugs are easy, at least in the short term (Peterson, 2018, p. 125).
In the case of people with mental health issues, there is sometimes an even greater temptation to abuse drugs. Peterson describes how constant anxiety can “render you impulsive so that you will jump…at any short term… opportunities (for) pleasure, no matter how sub-par, disgraceful or illegal.” Hence, drugs and alcohol (Peterson, 2018, p. 17).
To some, this is blaming the victim, and Peterson himself describes how the lifestyle of a “low status person” grinds one down in every way (Peterson, 2018, p. 16). This suggests that an increase in social justice might lead to a decrease in mental health issues and drug abuse (Rowe & Davidson, 2016, p. passim).
Peterson himself argues that with the existence of suffering being universal, it is up to the individual to find their own way to resist the impulse to take the easy road. He suggests “deferred gratification”, sticking to long-term aims and resisting impulses for short term solutions (Peterson, 2018, p. 93).
Of course, sometimes the pain of life is physical. What then? One man who had been taking opioids for years following major spinal surgery told Sian Powell “Gradually, over the years it’s like a cloud comes over your whole mind. You don’t even realise it’s happening…’ Until you stop the painkillers (Powell, 2018).
Michael Nicholas, director of pain management at Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney, told Powell “Drugs don’t deal with the cause of…pain. They may dull it, but they dull you, too…unfortunately, you have to accept living with pain.” He suggests that people should talk to an expert who can help work out other ways to live that don’t involve trying to avoid or escape from pain. (Powell, 2018)
As always, if you have any concerns with the medication you take, discuss it with a qualified medical practitioner and or pharmacist.
To make sure you get the right dosage, keep a regular medication routine. Ask your pharmacist about safe ways to store and organise your medications if you take more than one, like a “pill organiser.” Sticking to a routine can help avoid mistakes. See more in this issue’s Back On Track Health on page 21
If you are struggling, call Lifeline on 13 11 14