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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Calls For Help

The phone rang late Monday afternoon. I answered.

"Are you the Frank Thompson who is involved with fighting the problem of prescription drug abuse?" came a questioning voice that sounded vaguely familiar.

"Yes, that's me," I answered. As I quickly reacquainted myself with an old friend I hadn't heard from in many years, I recognized a tone of desperation in the voice on the line, an edgy quality that I knew would be the precursor of bad news. During the last two years I have heard it so many times that I have become accustomed to such calls.

The purpose of the call fell naturally into my ears. "I have a family member who needs help. I'm afraid to let another day pass without seeking assistance. This addiction to prescription drugs is eventually going to kill her," explained my friend. "She is suffering terribly. Can you do anything for us?"

I began to feel a wave of helplessness. As I fumbled through my cache of support groups, rehabs, and programs, I mumbled all the possible answers I could muster. Still, I felt ineffective. I wanted to give a magic phone number or a similar helpful link to achieve immediate support for my friend, but, I must admit, I felt as if I had just offered a shotgun approach of various contacts that might, or might not, save a desperate life.

Instead of naming all of the places and people to scavenge, I longed to offer my friend a definite workable plan, one that was affordable, immediate, and foolproof. In short, a plan that would guarantee success.

Then, a terrible thought entered my mind. If I were a dealer and my friend had called me for a fix, I could have relieved the pain and suffering of his loved one -- a plan simple to execute, guaranteed to bring immediate satisfaction, and sure to be cost effective. Potentially deadly? Of course, but why would I, a dealer, worry about the ultimate tragedy in such a needful situation. After all, OxyContin is a prescription drug and is meant to be used as directed to alleviate suffering. This poor addict was suffering. In short, she needed her drug. I would be doing her a favor.

It sickened me to see how easy hooking up a dependent individual would be. It made me even more nauseous to realize that an addict would probably be thankful to continue to destroy herself in the face of extreme suffering. The "bad guys" have the easy answer - the pill; the "good guys" must be content to support an addict with advice and promises of hopeful treatments. No doubt the toughest road is rehabilitation.

The entire matter rests on these two words: help or death. We, as concerned citizens must provide effective, extended help to the dependent community or we will suffer their deaths. Can you imagine legions of untreated terminal cancer patients wandering the county facing a public outcry of "These lowlifes chose to kill themselves, so they are getting what they deserve"? Many would say this of those who abuse prescription drugs. People dehumanize certain segments of society to accept their unwillingness to care for all mankind.

Substance abuse, dependency, addiction -- the problems are treatable. The victims suffer from disease. Most have lost the ability to "just toughen up and get off the drugs." To ignore them, to label them "expendable" or "weak," or to shun them like lepers of old condemns these people to lives of crime, homelessness, unemployment, and overdose. A major problem in society is a problem all, not just a few, must face and work to fix.

Of course, offering help demands resources such as money, people, and time. If we are unwilling to invest in a future that repairs and eliminates prescription drug abuse, we will continue to piece together a patchwork quilt of support. Don't get me wrong - many programs, support groups, and professionals are now very effective. But, we need more and better offerings in a system that lacks "cracks" through which dependents fall. We need immediate, first-class treatment for all.
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