The Hijacked Brain

I watched an interview on the PBS Newshour the other night with a physician whose young son recently died of a heroin overdose. He has started a foundation to help raise awareness and to bring an end to this deadly epidemic. My husband and I connected with him on so many levels: having a wonderful and brilliant son – who desperately wanted to be free of his addiction – die a needless death; the remorse over not knowing what we could have done differently to help our son; the desire to do something to help others before they are forced to share our pain and grief. In the interview he reiterated the truth that few people understand about opioid addiction: once a person is addicted to opioids, they are truly not normal or themselves any more. The drug has hijacked their brain and they are not capable of thinking normally. They must have the drug at any cost.

This is the reason that there are so few opioid addicts who live long enough to enjoy recovery, as opposed to addicts who use uppers like cocaine or meth. As Tracey Helton Mitchell said in her memoir, The Big Fix: “Heroin kept me chasing my tail, but crack (cocaine) finally sent me into recovery.” Our son’s addiction doctor put it this way: “Most people will build up tolerance to opioids and that tolerance is what leads to addiction. Once addicted, it is only over a long period of time with medication and group therapy (like the 12-Steps) that a person has hope of being free. This is why I call it the cancer of brain diseases’.”

In her article in The Washington Post, December 1st, Dr. Sandra Block (a neurologist) gives further evidence as seen on EEG’s on the changes to the brain that opioids cause:

“Neurologically speaking, opioids are crafty. They turn the brain’s own electricity against it, rewiring connections in an endless feedback loop for more drugs. They trick the brain into a death trap, as users chase the chemical bliss from the drugs with more drugs. Acute opioid usage (that is, the high itself) translates into slowing on the EEG. Usually, such an effect is transient, carefully monitored by an anesthesiologist during surgery, for instance. But when the patient becomes the anesthesiologist, the cycle can become lethal…the opioids overwhelm the brain’s respiratory center, causing cardiac arrest… I’m seeing brain death in people who haven’t lived their lives yet, whose brains haven’t even fully developed, brains that are literally killing themselves for drugs.”

My goal in sharing this information is that it will bring awareness to families and friends – and addicts – about why opioids are so pernicious and that we will begin to see those trapped in the addictive spell as individuals who really do want help. Learning what actual help is, as opposed to enabling the addiction, is a topic for another time.

 

I read the news today, Oh boy…

This is the post excerpt.

 

“I read the news today, Oh boy…” I am echoing John Lennon’s sentiments as I sing this phrase after watching the national news and one more feature on the Opioid Epidemic. More statistics, more information, more deaths, more families in free fall. The anger my husband and I feel originates from the sense of helplessness against overwhelming odds: drug cartels that have been well-functioning dispensers of deadly drugs for decades; pharmaceutical companies that seem to conveniently forget that the Hippocratic Oath and swearing to non-maleficence relates to all of the medical professions; government bureaucracies that can’t seem to either figure it out or get out of the way to stem the tide of the rising death toll that is killing the future of our nation— and the world.

This is a recurring, intensely frustrating, feeling that I have carried my entire adult life: seeing all too clearly what lies beneath the surface of a problem, whether it is personal, corporal, or physical in nature, while the issues seem too big for one person to deal with. So, most of the time, I do nothing. But the opioid crisis and its effects on surviving family and friends—this did not just hit close to home, it hit the bullseye. It went straight to our hearts and shattered them forever. We had a choice to make: either walk around with a bandage over our hearts and go on with our daily lives, or bare our wounded souls in the hope that as we do so, others in the same condition will be drawn to do the same and perhaps, just perhaps, we can together begin to affect lasting changes in the demise of our children’s’ lives.