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Drugs are not the problem

THE FIFTH COLUMN

To inject heroin requires you bend a common kitchen teaspoon to the extent that its handle resembles a soft-cornered square. I saw a picture taken of a larger-than-life sculpture of such a spoon, bent as if by a larger-than-life magician and placed outside the entrance of pharmaceutical giant Purdue Pharma’s headquarters by so-called protest artists.

The sculpture is a very visible and rather attractive outcry against Purdue’s production and marketing of OxyContin, the drug blamed for the opioid (of which heroin is one) epidemic wreaking havoc in the United States.

The number of deaths in the US due to opioids is staggering. New York (the state) alone has nine deaths a day due to overdoses. That the problem needs the help of as many protests as it can get is undisputed. Whether the sculptures (and the blame) should be placed at the door of pharma companies, I’m not so sure.

What the protesters and accusers (New York State is suing the company for the alleged maleficence highlighted by the protests) are effectively saying is that Purdue has a marketing message with the power to turn people into addicts.

That is simply not true. Drugs and marketing don’t get people addicted; people get themselves addicted (to borrow and butcher a phrase from the anti-gun movement) and stay that way, regardless of the obstacles they face.

A case in point: I know of a man, an addict, who went from pharmacy to pharmacy in Cape Town imploring — begging — pharmacists not to sell him pain medication. He relapsed, despite his efforts. Multiply him by several thousands and you’re left, I’m sure, with the scenario that will play out in the US after the most strictest of regulations have been put in place. Addicts will find a way to get their fix, no matter the obstacles placed before them. They’re resourceful that way, on a genius level.

The antidote for addiction — as it’s widely known but apparently not widely enough — is connection. “Give me hugs, not drugs” is how you save lives. “Just say no” (or “Just stop selling the stuff”) is not. 

This is, of course, merely my, and several others’ opinion, for it is very hard to prove through research and study what constitutes human connection — or, for that matter, love — and, oh, are we not dependent on (addicted to) studies and research to lead the way?

Could it be that thousands of Americans are numbing themselves to death because they are dreadfully unhappy and disconnected? I contend it could be. Is there a chance the lot of them are addicts? There most certainly is. Are psychotherapy, the 12 Steps and a loving, caring home some of the ways to get clean? No doubt.

The problem of addiction, ipso facto the opioid epidemic, has as many solutions as there are combinations in our DNA strings (perhaps not as many, but you get the idea).

I just don’t know if ridding the world of drugs is one of them. 

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Hans Mackenzie Main
Hans Mackenzie Main
Writer/Columnist at Mail & Guardian

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