If you don’t think your life can be forever changed from prescription drugs, then I guess you don’t think you could ever have a toothache, a surgical procedure or a broken bone. The day our 13-year-old son fell off the neighbor’s trampoline and broke his arm, our family’s journey took an unexpected turn down a path we never imagined.
Prescribed into addiction is a real thing! Unsuspecting parents and patients alike take the leap of faith that “Doctor knows best” without even basic knowledge of the addictive and dangerous substances we medicate ourselves with, or that far less dangerous alternatives exist.
If I knew then what I know now, our son would have endured a few weeks of discomfort, managed by over-the-counter pain relievers and ice, which would have been nothing compared to a lifetime of addiction and uncertainty. Why were we as parents not informed that Vicodin was an opioid? Why were we not warned that this was one of the most addictive substances known to man? And why are people prescribed these drugs every day without the simplest of instructions and disclosures?
I know it’s never going to be “you” that becomes dependent, gets addicted or has suicidal thoughts on the powerful prescriptions you consume. Just like I know that I have never met an addict who didn’t think the exact same thing before their dark journey began. No addict ever intends on becoming addicted, and neither do you. If my wife and I had known some basic information on these drugs, they would have never crossed the lips of our child. Our son took the journey from a seemingly routine prescription for a broken arm all the way to heroin itself.
By the time our son was in his early twenties, he was an addict, living drug deal to drug deal to feed his habit. The drugs had ravaged his 6′ 2″ frame, and he was withering away at a mere 127 pounds. By then, we usually only saw our son at the funerals of his many friends: kids he went to elementary school with, played Little League with, and kids who had been to sleepovers at our home—all prescribed into addiction, all dead, one after another, and surpassing 20 of his friends dead before our son was of legal drinking age.
We had lost our son to the world of addiction and knew with certainty that one of two things would happen. Either would start with a knock on the door or the ring of the phone. Would it be the police chaplain or the police reporting his arrest? Luckily for us, it was his arrest. We knew that the second best place in the world for our son was prison, while the best place would be professional drug rehab. When prison becomes a goal for your child, you have lowered the bar to a level that clearly begs for your child to remain alive. All other dreams and aspirations have vanished, and all you want is for your child to just keep breathing.
Our journey into our son’s addiction included me literally going undercover to bust a prescription-drug dealer in trade for my son’s ability to go to drug rehab instead of the five years he was facing in prison for the crimes he committed while addicted. I’ve spoken to over a thousand families afflicted by addiction, to hundreds of addicts whose journeys began so innocently with a doctor’s prescription; hosted a radio show; appeared in documentaries; marched on this nation’s capital holding a bullhorn, looking out at a sea of parents clutching posters that bore the image of their deceased children; and I have written two books on this important subject. More importantly, I am humbled by the parents I have met along this journey who have paid the ultimate price and will never hug their child again—parents who stand up and tell their story through their agony and tears or who start grassroots organizations to comfort others who have endured their own painful journey, all with the selfless goal of keeping others from walking in their shoes.
I believe the only thing that will cause the mounting deaths from prescription drug addiction to subside is awareness—awareness in the form of simplified knowledge of the substances we are prescribed—and reform of a corrupt distribution system controlled by the pharmaceutical companies who are all about the almighty buck.
How many more innocent people will blindly fill a prescription, toss the thousand-word disclosure document written by doctors and edited by the company who stands to profit, and ingest a pill simply because they don’t know any better? When will our society put people before profits and knowledge before ignorance?
If you believe that addiction only happens to the weak, or that you have personally taken these pills and nothing will happen to you, or that addicts can just stop whenever they want to, then at minimum I’d ask you to acknowledge that the only way to find out if a drug is addictive or will cause you to have horrific side effects is to open your mouth and swallow. Is it worth the risk?
–by Bradley V. DeHaven