Opinion: Why talking about addiction matters

Opioid addiction is a disease that has caught the nation’s attention. From well-off suburbs in major cities to homeless encampments, from black-tar heroin to prescription medication, opioid-based drugs have addicted unknown millions of citizens.

This addiction is no stranger to college-aged persons either. Many of us have had surgeries or operations done well before adulthood — from wisdom teeth removals to sports injuries to everyday accidents — our exposure to opioid drugs starts young. This is especially concerning due to two factors: opioid drugs are known to be some of the most addictive substances known to man, and abuse of opioid medication is prominent amongst young adults. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 18–25 year olds are the biggest abusers of prescription medication, and this number has increased 4-fold between 1999 and 2014. Not to mention, the prescription of opioid medication has increased 4-fold in that exact same time period, according to the Center for Disease Control.

This problem has been addressed many ways. Some have considered the development of safe-use sites for heroin users to prevent overdoses and prevent the littering of used needles in public places. However, pushback from citizens — notably in Snohomish County, where voters recently banned any funding or development of such sites — has kept these spaces from being created. Another way opioid addiction has been addressed is by educating the public about how opioids are addictive, the signs of addiction and where to receive help. However, this has had little effect on preventing new addictions simply because many sources of news or media coverage surrounding opioid addiction don’t focus on this. Not to mention, this information isn’t widely distributed to the public, let alone those who are more susceptible to addiction.

The solution, which does offer promises — albeit pushback from major pharmaceutical companies to doctors to even we, the patients — is to restrict the prescription of opioid medication. Despite its great effectiveness at combating pain, the over-prescription of opioid medication has resulted in addiction and death. We should take the steps to refuse or reregulate certain medications — opioids in particular — so they are only prescribed in extreme situations of pain or long-term care. Furthermore, we should pressure our representatives to hold pharmaceutical companies responsible for how they market their medication similar to the way we have restricted the ability of tobacco companies: providing warning labels, funding anti-addiction/anti-abuse advertisements and other ways to inform the public about opioid addiction.

The only way we can fight this epidemic is by being well informed patients. We should recognize when to accept or deny medications that could be life threatening or addictive and learn to be honest and open with our doctors. We should take it upon ourselves to be educated about addiction and why it happens. Most importantly, we should learn to not see addicts as a problem, but as people with a problem — a problem that must be addressed at its source, not its effect.

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