What nobody is talking about is the fact that opioids, or opiates, make us feel good. They work for emotional pain as well as for physical pain. We are in the midst of a psychological crisis, as a nation, which makes us susceptible. Opium and its derivatives give a person the feeling of a warm, safe, loving embrace, the sense that everything really will be all right. This is the real reason that Americans are "addicted" in astounding numbers. We're not addicted to opioids, we're suffering. We're miserable. Nothing is going the way that we thought it would. We're isolated or in troubled relationships. We're unemployed or underemployed. We "don't get no" respect. We're traumatized by wars, rapes, and a zillion other unmentionable events in our lives.
It's because of this misery that Americans commit suicide in all kinds of ways. I think suicide can be both passive and active. Active suicide includes all the things that people do when they have every intention of dying that same day. Some slit wrists, pull triggers, or swallow pills. Passive suicide is even more common. People passively suicide by eating or drinking themselves to death, or by accidental overdose or driving too fast or doing other things that are obviously risky but without the expectation that death will happen today. It just could, and the danger be damned.
And then there's suicide by cop, which is getting more common. All you have to do is threaten a cop and you might well get shot. It will happen faster if your skin is brown. If you want to be famous then you do like the Unabomber or the Vegas shooter guy and try to break some records before you die.
All of this is just a symptom of what's really wrong: we are miserable. We have splintered our families and destroyed our communities and in their stead we have endless televised entertainment and cell phones and automobiles that will take us to soulless destinations. Our president has been stomping on what was left of our moral compass. We have lost our sense of who we are. We have lost our ritual traditions, our celebrations of life and death. We have lost our humanity and become appendages of some giant machine that owns and uses us until our brains give way and we execute ourselves. Planned obsolescence was the term for equipment that was expected to become outdated. Now we the people are irrelevant, and it doesn't fell good.
There are those who say that if we can take a pill or inject something and feel great, what's the harm in that? At least if you die of an opioid overdose, you die happy. I can't argue that ending miserable lives is all bad. It is also not all good, because it is so irreversible. Death is the end, you do not get to play again. Misery is reversible. Many who are miserable at one time eventually find a way to be happy.
There are ways that we can rediscover meaning in our lives. We have to be conscious of when we are resorting to patches and distractions, and get real about what matters. Being with those we love... if we remember how to love... that could save us. Get that warm hug from a real person instead of a pill. Give that warm hug to someone who needs it. Share traditions that celebrate the good things in life... Thanksgivings if you will... these kinds of traditions help us build community and help us remember what is important. Being in touch with nature is also the deepest kind of medicine. There is something about the ocean that helps people grieve. Gardening, digging in the earth and watching things grow, is another simple thing that helps open the door to happiness. Art and music are wonderful ways to let the pain flow out and to become human again. These are things that we have lost, but we can claim them again.
Suing drug manufacturers--or doctors--will not bring back the dead. The government cannot bring back the dead or prevent the deaths that will happen tomorrow. It is up to each and every one of us to remember what it means to be human, and to BE human with the people in our lives. If something is clearly wrong, ask about it. Talk about it. Just by connecting we can help a person hang on to the will to live.
Another thing we can do to support life is to mourn the dead properly. To truly grieve is to remember what was good about someone and to praise them, so that you know what you have lost. So many have died already, let us grieve them all. Let us admit our losses, and by being honest about them, reclaim the value of a life.
In order to remember joy we must let ourselves feel the pain. When we numb ourselves to the pain in life, we become slaves to whatever substance makes the pain go away. Drugs make us less and less capable of dealing with pain, and they also dissolve our human relationships that can help us work through the pain. The thing about pain is that it does not last forever. It goes through us. If the injury is great, it can last for a long time. The pain of grief comes in waves, more some times and less others. Psychological pain lasts far longer than physical, and is the real reason that people want to keep taking opioids. The pain is "too much" unless we are there for each other, unless we find ways to support each other in going through the fire that is our own pain.
The conventional treatment for opioid addiction is more drugs. The treatment drugs are less enjoyable than the more addictive ones, but they are in the same family. I say we must address the suffering. If we do not help people find ways to alleviate suffering, we are doing no more than rearranging bullets in a gun.