Why Has Addiction Become an Epidemic?
When did this all Begin?
We, as a society, have been addicted to one substance or another well back to before the 16th century. In the early days, some was attributable to what we now understand to be mental diseases and choice. Mead was the first alcohol that is mentioned in the early days, although there were also wine and spirits. The addiction to these stemmed from what our minds perceived to be pleasure. They made us feel superior and possessed of strength far beyond our real natural tendencies. They also, supposedly, made us feel more amorous, although, as any regular drinker can tell you now, it made it difficult to "perform".To this day, we are possessed by the addiction to booze and many have paid dearly for it. Cirrhosis and other liver diseases have been linked to alcohol abuse.
The first instance of "forced" addiction traces back to when tobacco companies discovered the addictive properties of nicotine, a drug that is not naturally occurring in tobacco leaf. In fact, "Independent evidence and the tobacco industry’s own documents make clear that the tobacco companies have used design features and chemical additives in the manufacturing process in ways that increase the impact of nicotine, the addictive agent in tobacco products. Products have been engineered to create and sustain addiction by controlling their physical properties."(1) One of the most addictive and hardest to quit, it remains legal regardless of the health implications.
According to the CDC, tobacco addiction results in approximately 480,000 early deaths per year, deaths that shouldn't occur. And, the addiction doesn't happen due to the tobacco, rather, the nicotine additive.
Naturally, the tobacco industry was directly tied to the purse strings of the Congressional members who had holdings in that sector of business. So, as is mostly the case, they were allowed to run rough shod through peoples' health.
What about Alcohol Addiction?
We've had our ups and downs with booze. In the early part of American life, it was not only accepted, but downright required socially. We drank champagne, liquor and brews as if it was a right of citizenship. Then, in 1920, it was killed by the Prohibition movement, and became a black market product. Even the law couldn't stop us from getting our daily high. This, in itself, wasn't bad, but for the millions with the predisopsition to alcoholism, it was a necessary evil. Names like Capone, Malone and Cassiday made sure there was always a supply for every speakeasy in the country to keep their addicts happy. In October 1930, bootlegger George Cassiday —"the man in the green hat"—came forward and told how he had bootlegged for ten years for members of Congress. I wonder who it was that kept their illicit businesses successful and ridiculously profitable. Maybe the government officials that were making a good show of things publicly for support while, all the time backing the bootleggers to feed their own need. Either way, it was another case of people circumventing the laws to continue their addictions. In 1933, Prohibition came to an end and we were all allowed to be drunk whenever we wanted again.
When did we Become Drug Addicts, and how?
Drugs became readily available roughly 100 years ago, when they were legally prescribed by doctors for over the counter sale and in treatments of disease. Not knowing the addictive nature of many of these drugs, names we know today all too well, they continued to peddle these substances and unwittingly addicted millions of Americans. However, some drugs we know of today were introduced to the community at large well before this time. I'll wager none of you know that marijuana was grown here in the USA in the 1600's, brought by the Jamestown settlers and cultivated as not only hemp products, but as a usable surrogate for alcohol. In fact, it was used by the government as a major source of revenues before the Civil War. In the years from 1850 to 1937, it was even sold over the counter through drug stores. In 1937, it was banned due to its ties to crime and violence in lower class communities. It remains illegal to possess any substantial amounts of pot for personal use, other than in a few states, and is only approved for medical purposes in a legally controlled, licensed environment.
But, what else was legal before the times of drug conservatism? Many doctors prescribed cocaine for a variety of reason, and it was even an ingredient of some of our most beloved soft drinks, i.e. Coca Cola and Pepsi. It was a euphoric and eventually became one of the most abused drugs in the United States, and, to some extent, the entire world. Cocaine was as widely used as a carton of milk is today. And all those people who were drinking it in their sodas, or taking it as a prescribed medication, were all becoming addicted. It is still nearly as addictive as tobacco, although it's considerably easier to give it up than nicotine. That is, if you want to.
Then, we come upon morphine, and, eventually, heroin. The poppy product had lessened in popularity for a brief time in the 20th century, but has now come back with a vengeance, and in a much stronger and deadlier form. Heroin overdoses have gone sky high in the last 5 or so years, and it all comes down to one factor, the worst ever widely prescribed legally. Opioids are so accepted in society that there are specific advertisements for them on TV and in print media. We become hooked on the pain meds, and, when we can no longer get any relief from them, or our prescriptions can't be refilled, we turn to heroin as a replacement. It's not just in lower class neighborhoods anymore, but right in Suburbia, where high schoolers and soccer moms alike are dying in record numbers. All under the watchful eyes of Congress and the courts. Once again, another industry is favored over the health and well being of the American people. The pharmaceutical corporations, who have admitted they're in the business of profit rather than health, is a well lobbied concern in the halls of our laws and regulations. The FDA is even on the take and heeds no warnings from the CDC or WHO. Or, the Chief Medical Examiner for that matter. We are just another dollar in those congressional wallets.
So, we die in favor of money, not a new concept made easy by big money. When are we going to learn?
What about you?
Have you ever been addicted to any substance, legal or otherwise?
(1) Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR), Addictiveness and Attractiveness of Tobacco Additives, 2010.