In 1996, Purdue Pharma introduced OxyContin as a painkilling drug that was both “safe and highly effective.” Drug reps insisted to family doctors that “OxyContin had no real risks–only benefits.” In 2007, Purdue pleaded guilty to criminal charges that it “misled regulators, doctors, and patients about OxyContin’s addictive qualities. But by that point, hundreds of thousands of Americans were hooked.” These are the claims of a damning report published recently by The Week magazine (02/19/16, p. 13).
An epidemic is plaguing America–the abuse of opioids such as Vicodin, Percocet, and OxyContin. A record 47,000 Americans fatally overdosed last year. That’s more than the number who died in car crashes. “This epidemic isn’t being driven by illicit drugs, but by a surge in the use of prescription opioid painkillers.”
The way American society is reacting (or not reacting, to be more precise) is revealing. The “War on Drugs” of the last 30 years against crack, meth, and other illegal drugs resulted in literally millions going to prison. The muted response to the current painkiller abuse may be indicative of the fact that its abusers typically are from higher socioeconomic strata than most users of crack or meth.
The road to addiction to painkillers is very different from the trek taken for other forms of drug abuse. Student athletes or housewives are prescribed opioids to deal with sports injuries or ailments. “Addiction experts say doctors have fueled this crisis by recommending that patients with even minor ailments and aches take highly addictive opioids…..Physicians wrote 259 million opioid prescriptions in 2012, triple the number two decades ago…” That was enough to provide every adult in America with a bottle. This is an epidemic “that’s essentially caused by physicians.”
Pastors need to be aware of this situation. The next person you counsel who is struggling with drug addiction may not fit the typical stereotype. Rather than a homeless person off the street, he or she may be an honor student in your youth group.
Cross posted at www.theologyforthechurch.com