Thanks to Sanjay Gupta and CNN for this evening running “Deadly Dose,” about the skyrocketing problem of painkiller misuse and addiction in the U.S. since 2000.
Dr. Gupta brought Bill Clinton onto the show as one of his primary sources. Clinton had been friends with a young man who had overdosed from a combination of prescription opioids and booze. “I’m sure he never knew that he was turning the lights out,” Clinton said. Gupta focused mainly on accidental overdoses: at one point Clinton said,
People are dying in large numbers every year because they do not know that if you drink four or five beers and then pop an Oxycontin, for example, it shuts down the part of your brain that tells your body to breathe while you are asleep.
At one point, however, Gupta interviewed a guy who didn’t identify his name but allowed his face to be shown on camera—a guy who had begun taking Vicodin for back pain, and who eventually climbed up to taking eight to 10 “eighties,” or 80mg tablets of OxyContin, per day. Which would be up to 800mg—”without loss of ability to function,” he said. Of course, because when our bodies develop tolerance to opioids, we can function pretty much as well as most people—opioids are not like alcohol that way.
Gupta is breaking new ground in outing this subject, which garnered him overwhelming praise and a tiny bit of criticism on the Twitter live-chat (#DeadlyDose) from folks unwilling to consider that the prescribing of opioids may need to be more strictly regulated. During the show I found myself wishing he could call the problem what it is–addiction—and not just “accidental overdose” or “prescription misuse.” The guy who was using 10 “eighties” was definitely not accidentally doing so. I kept hammering away on Twitter: “Doctors need to learn to spot signs of addiction.”
Because I’ve done so many live-chats, for example with The Fix‘s staff and associates, I’m used to live-Tweeting, and I was one of three people Gupta himself retweeted to his 1.5 million followers during the show:
— Dr. Sanjay Gupta (@sanjayguptaCNN) November 19, 2012
Which is cool because one of my jobs in the next year is to get more media attention for recovery from addiction. I’ve been so damn busy but I’ve meant to tell you that, the day after my 48th birthday, on Halloween, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (a branch of the federal Department of Health and Human Services) emailed to say I am the recipient of a year-long fellowship, which comes with a cash award and training in Washington, D.C. to help me become “a voice for recovery.” Which, they acknowledged, I already am because of this blog and the other writing I do.
And I owe you, my dear readers, a great deal of thanks. You flock to this site for “news, reviews and straight talk about addiction and recovery,” and you show there is an audience out there who wants reliable information and good stories about this illness. You rock.