As you may have read in my recent blog post, my son went to the oral surgeon last Tuesday to have two wisdom teeth pulled. The big concern for everyone involved was whether or not he would be able to get through the pain of the surgery without an opioid pain reliever.
I am happy to report that he did. The first 24 hours were tough, and he did ask text my wife on a few occasions--okay...quite a few occasions--to let us know that he was in a lot of pain. We provided moral support, told him "You've got this" over and over, and remained confident that 800mg Motrin was all our son would need to manage the pain.
By Thursday, he was feeling better and even went back to work. No Vicodin required.
Not too long ago, a chance to get a legitimate prescription for Vicodin from an actual doctor would probably have been seen by my son as a golden opportunity. But not this time. He thought about it, fought through both the fear of pain and the actual pain itself, and avoided the opioids.
When you're the parent of an addict in recovery, you quietly rejoice when your child achieves little victories like this. Or when your child reaches recovery milestones, which my son did yesterday: 19 months clean and sober. Bravo, son.
But on the same day my wife and I were feeling so grateful for our son's 19 months, iconic actor Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead in his New York apartment, the victim of an apparent heroin overdose. Hoffman's death was a shock to many, especially because he had been clean for 23 years before relapsing and entering rehab again last year.
I mention Hoffman's death here for a couple of reasons.
First of all, it goes to show you that addiction is a lifelong disease. Hoffman had 23 years of clean time, relapsed last year, and went back into rehab. Yesterday, he lost his battle with the disease. Twenty-three years. That's almost as long as my son's been alive. Yet the disease reared its ugly head and Hoffman succumbed to it.
Secondly, the world should know that heroin addiction very often occurs as the result of prescription drug addiction. As David Sheff writes in this excellent piece on Time.com, "These days, most heroin addictions are preceded by addictions to prescription opiates like Oxycontin and Vicodin. These drugs can be hard to get and expensive compared with a cheaper opiate: heroin. If we can prevent prescription-medicine misuse, we can prevent many instances of heroin addiction."
Prevention. What a novel concept. If we work harder at prevention, and at the same time better the treatment given to addicts, perhaps future tragedies can be averted. Sheff goes on to say in his Time.com article, "If pain-medication abuse is effectively curtailed, so will the sharp rise in heroin addiction. If the treatment system adopts evidence-based practices, heroin addicts like Hoffman can be saved."
I believe that doctors need to stop prescribing addictive medications willy-nilly and contributing to the addiction problem. Nobody wants to become an addict. But when people are prescribed drugs like Oxycontin and Vicodin in situations when maybe something non-addictive and less dangerous would work, we're putting a loaded gun in their hands. Not everyone will pull the trigger and become an addict. But many will.
As I celebrate my son's 19 months of sobriety, at the same time my heart aches for the family of Philip Seymour Hoffman and all the other families who have lost, or will lose, loved ones to addiction.
Perhaps Hoffman's death will raise awareness among the public and help break the stigma associated with drug addiction. Maybe drug addiction will stop being that taboo subject that gets swept under the rug by so many people. Maybe treatment will improve and drug use will decline. And maybe, just maybe, lives--both young and old--will be saved.
What a wonderful thing that would be.
"[The] stigma associated with drug use--the belief that bad kids use, good kids don't, and those with full-blown addiction are weak, dissolute, and pathetic--has contributed to the escalation of use and has hampered treatment more than any single other factor." --David Sheff, from his book Clean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending America's Greatest Tragedy