It used to be that drug addiction was a trend typically seen in lower socioeconomic societies. Those unemployed, homeless, and/or uneducated were more vulnerable to addiction because they tended to be around other users or drugs which were infiltrating into their communities. However, today, the opiate addiction is affecting not only the lower class, but the middle and upper class as well. It’s a phenomenon that is unusual for most addiction epidemics, making anyone from any socioeconomic class vulnerable to drug abuse and overdose.
Meet Miller Atkinson
When Miller Atkinson was 24, he tried heroin for the first time. After that, “there was nothing that could have stopped me from getting high”. The rush was so great that he kept using the drug every day for 9 months straight. Miller lived in an upper middle class neighborhood in the Midwest. He was attending University of Cincinnati and dropped out because of his drug use. Slowly, he developed a tolerance to heroin and needed larger doses to experience the same high.
In 2013, Miller tried a new combination of drugs that hit the streets of Cincinnati –fentanyl laced with heroin. Fentanyl is an opioid, meaning that it’s a man-made drug that is roughly 100 times more potent than heroin, typically used to alleviate pain. Miller and his friends grew excited about the new street drug and its combination with heroin. The two drugs combined were so strong, however, that some of his friends fatally overdosed. Miller managed to live through it all despite several misdemeanors and a felony charge. He is currently sober and hopes to begin law school soon.
Meet Jennifer Matesa
Jennifer Matesa is a 51-year-old wife, mother, and writer. She admits that she is one of the growing statistics that reveals middle class women are a big part of those suffering from an opiate addiction. Between 1997 and 1999, Jennifer experienced a number of losses, including moving multiple times, the death of her mother, and physical pain from her fibromyalgia. Jennifer also had migraines, along with experiencing more and more depression and anxiety. To help manage the physical pain, doctors prescribed her pain medication. Sadly, having a legitimate reason to take opioids is often the beginning of addiction for many upper to middle class individuals.
Jennifer’s tolerance to opioids continued to grow between 2002 and 2008. Between having to care for her son, keep up the 3-story home she and her husband owned, and working, Jennifer admits that she felt she needed to keep taking the medication in order to make her life work. It got so bad for Jennifer that she started to change the dates on her prescriptions in order to get her medications sooner. She also got prescriptions for stronger and stronger meds going from Vicodin to Oxycontin to Fentanyl patches. Jennifer decided that putting those patches on her skin wasn’t enough and began placing them on the roof of her mouth to experience a quicker absorption. After a turning point in 2008, Jennifer sought help for her addiction and is now sober. She writes about her recovery to inspire others and to help change the medical system that facilitated her addiction.
Meet Dr. Peter Grinspoon
Dr. Grinspoon currently works at Massachusetts General Hospital but it took him awhile to get back to practicing medicine. In his book, Free Refills, Dr. Grinspoon talks about his opiate addiction and how ultimately he lost his license to practice medicine. His abuse of opiates began with feeling overwhelmed by stress combined with having an all-to-easy access to medication. It wasn’t long before he was addicted to Percocet and Vicodin. As he continued to take medication and as the addiction worsened, his criminal record grew larger.
The State Police and the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) visited his medical office one day. Subsequently, Dr. Grinspoon was charged with three felonies, spent two years in probation, and his license was taken away. After many years of hard work, he was able to get back to practicing medicine and is now a physician at a major hospital in Chelsea, Massachusetts. Dr. Grinspoon later wondered about what might happen if he were in an accident and needed to take prescription pain pills again. He wrote about his experience of needing to take prescription pain for a surgery (while in recovery) and worrying about whether taking medication again will make him vulnerable to addiction once more. Fortunately, with the right limits in place, the medication did not trigger abuse.
After reading these stories, you might see a trend – lawyer, writer, doctor. All of these individuals are educated, working, upper-to-middle class people who found themselves in the throes of addiction to opiates. The point is that opiate addiction can affect anyone. Regardless of whether you are rich or poor, educated or illiterate, unknown or famous, everyone is vulnerable to the addiction.
How to Protect Yourself from Opioid Addiction
If you need to manage chronic pain or are healing from a surgery, there are non-opioid medications that may be able to manage your pain without the risks of addiction and abuse. Furthermore, there are possible steps you can take to safely manage pain while you’re on prescription pain pills:
- Don’t use opioids for long-term pain management (unless you have discussed all other possible options with your doctor). Taking opioids for long periods of time can be risky. If you need to take pain medication for surgery or to heal from an injury, be sure to keep your use of opioids short.
- Calculate the risk and benefits you have with using prescription pain medication. There are factors that can increase the risk of abuse such as having a history of addiction, having multiple pain problems, mental illness, and the amount of dose you’re taking. The higher the dose you’re taking, the greater the risk there is for harm.
- If needed, take opioids with safety precautions in place. If you need to take pain medication for a short period of time, take the lowest dose possible, stay in frequent contact with your doctor, and don’t drink alcohol or use any recreational or street drugs while also taking opioids.
These suggestions are meant to help create a safe way to use opioids, if needed, because everyone is vulnerable to this type addiction.