We all know about our public health emergency. We know at least some of the staggering statistics of drug dependency and overdose both nationally and in the state of South Carolina. We know that Gov. Henry McMaster has a plan. And that President Donald Trump has declared a public health emergency. I am referring of course to the opioid epidemic.
Much attention is being given to this epidemic, framed as addiction, dependency and opioid dependency disorder. Efforts are being made to expand access to clinics, increase the availability of practitioners, and come up with pharmaceutical options for weaning people off opioids.
I propose another tactic. Instead of focusing only on the branches of this national tragedy, focus on the roots. Instead of condemning those who are dependent and further victimizing them, try to understand and have empathy for why people would find themselves in this agonizing situation.
Here’s a term that perhaps some of us don’t know: The pain train. The pain train is the broken locomotive of the health care system that takes you to several stops. You get off on the platform, but instead of visiting a new, pleasurable and interesting place, you get another in a series of what are often failed medical treatments to address injury, illness or disease.
These include but are not limited to: Surgery, epidural/nerve block shots, trigger point shots, steroid shots, nerve meds, etc. And the last stop on this train is pain management. Pain management means nothing else worked, and it’s time for pain medication, usually opioids.
What if we finally embraced more than the limited Western model of medicine? There are millions of people in our country living in chronic pain. Relentless pain. Pain that is unpredictable. Pain that flares up and causes emergency situations. And pain that in many cases becomes worse over time, affecting our whole bodies and systems. Pain that is an economic, emotional and physical drain. We don’t just need intervention when folks become addicted. We need options and treatments so that addiction has no power to take hold over those who suffer.
For thousands of years, people around the world have used treatments (that we now mistakenly label alternative) that are highly effective in addressing illness and pain. Among them: massage therapy, aromatherapy, Reiki, acupuncture, holistic therapies, herbs and tinctures, cannabidiol (CBD) oil, hemp products, yoga, meditation, and nutritional and dietary regimens. This is no hocus pocus. Many hospitals and treatment centers are already incorporating the best of both Eastern and Western medicine. Where much of Western medicine is reactive, Eastern medicine is preventive.
We pride ourselves in healing wounds, mending broken bones and removing cancer. And, in the event of a crisis, finding a medication to combat existing medications that cause side effects and addiction. And also managing illnesses and conditions with medication. All of this serves a noble and necessary purpose.
But the time has come to heal our whole selves instead of eliminating symptoms. No one wants to become dependent or addicted to drugs. And like much in life, the path is not clear cut, but insidious and deceptive. Little by little, day by day and choice by choice, we find ourselves in uncharted and dangerous territory, without a lifeboat.
Not only must we heal our whole selves we must see, and the medical establishment must see, that we are whole beings. We are connected. Every cell in our body is affected when one part of our body suffers — physically or emotionally. What is most disheartening in this national tragedy is perhaps the perception and attitude toward those who suffer. Anyone who suffers is deserving of mercy, support and care without judgment.
Millions of dollars for more medications to combat the medications that have already caused havoc? How about some money and resources for educating, supporting and treating the millions who are battling courageously, many times in the shadows, because they carry daily pain that no one can see?
We are in desperate need of a major overhaul of not only how we see illness, injury, disease and addiction, but how we see and treat those who suffer.