Pain-Killer Epidemic Sweeping the West

There is an epidemic in many western countries of individuals becoming addicted to painkillers, anti-depressants, and anxiolytics that have been properly prescribed by their physicians. It is estimated that around 30 million Americans currently abuse prescription opioid medications – many of those addicts began addicted from an injury or other pain for which they were prescribed opiate medications.

Root Problem(s)

Likewise, many individuals are prescribed anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medication for situational symptoms, and are never able to come off of them. This is very common, and even less of an accepted mis-use of these pharmaceutical agents. Anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications, such as benzodiazepines or serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI), were never developed or researched to be used indefinitely, yet many physicians will advocate these agents instead of delving into the true cause of a patient’s discomfort, emotional trauma, depression, anxiety, etc. Because these underlying factors are never really addressed, it is easy to understand why these pharmaceutical agents become “necessary” in the long-term.

When Withdrawals Are Worse Than The Pain

The horrible thing about many of these pharmaceuticals is that the withdrawal symptoms are so intense, that they nearly prohibit the coming off of the drugs, so once someone is on them, they’re on them for life – in many cases. Many people who try to go off of these medications experience such horrible withdrawal symptoms that they are scared to ever try to live without the drugs again. In addition, sometimes the withdrawal symptoms become confused with the original symptoms that physicians often use them in advocating the continuance of the drugs.

Unnecessary Agents Working Against Us

Its debatable whether these agents are necessary – at all in many cases – and in some cases they may be a miracle – but even when they are used appropriately (aside from extreme cases) they were never meant to be used in the long term. These are agents which are known to affect brain chemistry, personality, mood, and the “essence of who someone is.” They may be okay for a short period of time, to help someone in a situation which is too difficult to bear on their own, in situations where there is no, or limited support, but they’ve never been studied for more than about 6 weeks.

Best Course of Action

When depression or anxiety is part of a person’s healing journey, the best course of action is to get as much support as possible. Whether that is family, friends, community groups, counseling, therapy, support groups, or self care such as acupuncture, massage, reading, spa therapy, nature walks, exercise, sex (safe), or ANYTHING else that gives someone a sense that they can work through what they are dealing with without a pharmaceutical coping mechanism.

Node Smith, associate editor for NDNR, is a fifth year naturopathic medical student at NUNM, where he has been instrumental in maintaining a firm connection to the philosophy and heritage of naturopathic medicine amongst the next generation of docs. He helped found the first multi-generational experiential retreat, which brings elders, alumni, and students together for a weekend campout where naturopathic medicine and medical philosophy are experienced in nature. Three years ago he helped found the non-profit, Association for Naturopathic ReVitalization (ANR), for which he serves as the board chairman. ANR has a mission to inspire health practitioners to embody the naturopathic principles through experiential education. Node also has a firm belief that the next era of naturopathic medicine will see a resurgence of in-patient facilities which use fasting, earthing, hydrotherapy and homeopathy to bring people back from chronic diseases of modern living; he is involved in numerous conversations and projects to bring about this vision. 

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