Wednesday, May 16, 2007

On Grams and Damns

I have had several conversations recently that coalesce around a common theme:
  • A health care provider tells me that would be patients call or walk into her office on a daily basis complaining of chronic pain and asking for various opiates by name. She never complies with these requests. One can only suspect that those who do comply gain a reputation that brings them even more visitors.
  • A kindergarten teacher says that a third of the students in her current class are taking medication for attention deficit disorder.
  • A friend who is dealing with several stressful issues at once says that family members suggested she take an anti-depressant. The friend admits to being tired and irritable lately, but has no history of mental illness.

The first of those items concerns pain medication and probably results from addiction. In many instances, patients who are prescribed opiates by physicians for chronic pain for extended periods of time end up being addicted to those narcotics. All too often their lives end up in ruin. The other two items relate to the use of psychotropic drugs designed to alter moods and behavior. While both pain medications and psychotropic ones can have valid uses, their ever growing usage indicates an increased tendency to medicalize normal life experience.

That is not a good thing. For some, especially as we age, chronic pain is a normal experience that can be mitigated, but not removed. Children are expected to be energetic. It is the job of adults to decide what level of rambunctiousness is appropriate and to set boundaries around it. Stress and depression sometimes are nature's (or God's, depending on your philosophical viewpoint) way of telling us that we are taking too much on or going about life the wrong way. One may not ever get better if they try to address psychological/spiritual needs physically. Medicine that merely masks will not cure.

It is sadly ironic that many who consider a swat on the rear to be a form of child abuse have no problem with drugging children into submission. If Ritalin helps your child, please don't assume that I am talking about you. I can not diagnose the individual, but I am concerned when I hear that 30% of a group of children are taking these medicines.

Again, none of this is to say that these medications don't have appropriate uses. They do, and, in any event, I am not a physician and am not qualified to render medical opinions on individual patients. The only argument here is that widespread usage indicates that in at least some cases these medicines are being overly prescribed. That a seeming majority of those taking such medications are doing so for extended periods of time with little or no psychological or spiritual counselling is disturbing.

In his chilling novel Brave New World, Aldous Huxley describes the universal usage, in civilization, of a psychotropic drug called soma, which is designed to help people mask the banality of their pleasure filled, but ultimately meaningless, lives. Years of brainwashing conditioned these people to accept the use of this drug. "A gram is better than a damn," they were taught to say.

"A gram is better than a damn." It took years of brainwashing to convince the inhabitants of the brave new world to believe that. Many of those in our society seem to have become convinced far more easily.

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