Wendell Berry is a political essayist and farmer with works spanning over five decades and one of the most prolific philosophers of our time. He had this to say about drug use: “People use drugs, legal and illegal, because their lives are intolerably painful or dull. They hate their work and find no rest in their leisure. They are estranged from their families and their neighbors. It should tell us something that in healthy societies drug use is celebrative, convivial and occasional whereas among us it is lonely, shameful and addictive. We need drugs, apparently, because we have lost each other. (pg 61, Racism and the Economy).
A recovering client in the Get Off Prescription Drugs outpatient program recently confided that he has heard this phrase repeatedly from colleagues in crime who are still in the abuse cycle: “stuck in the game.” That is a perfect description of the conundrum of power and shame referenced in the previous blog about responsibility. How are we suppose to take responsibility when there is no hope of success while we circle the drain? We sense that there is no way out of our peculiar dilemma and therefore with resignation and contempt we become enmeshed with the substances/addictions of choice.
Another prior blog post referenced the tsunami of frozen grief found in the difficult prescription drug tapers. When prescriptions came in as the go to treatment for life’s difficulties, grief work flew out the door. We are left now with a torrid waterfall of pent up anger and sorrow. Perhaps this explains our penchant for violence and wars.
The other foundation of healing superseded by the quick fix of drug prescribing is the “relationship.” Power over patients relies on the obliteration of bedside manner. The paradigm shift we see coming in to replace abuses of power consists of kindness, intuitive listening, empathy, openness, respect and liberty. Input and freedom of choice is a return to a foundation lost upon us.
The inspiring forefather psychoanalyst Carl Jung put it this way: “Where love rules, there is no will to power, and where power predominates, love is lacking. The one is the shadow of the other.” (On the Psychology of the Unconsciousness. 1917)
Now that medical doctors are facing shadowy homicide charges (on 3/4/2012 Dr. Hsiu-Ying Tseng of Los Angeles County was charged with murder after three of her patients died of prescription drug overdoses) and being held accountable for their decision to be drug prescribers you see a good deal of scrambling on their part to explain themselves. As with many abuses in power, the abusers hide behind the explanation of “I had no choice.” Shall we forgive them because they knew not what they did?
In an article titled “U.S. Abuse of Prescription Drugs at All-Time High; Mental Health Professionals React” (3/17/2012 PR Web) Dr. Lisa Firestone the Director of Research and Education of the Glendon Association (a non-profit mental health research organization) made this statement about the prescribing of drugs: “When we try to submerge or alleviate pain and anxiety, we ignore their messages. Pain, whether physical or mental, is trying to tell us something important. When we try to quiet our discomfort, we fail to identify it’s cause and address the underlying issues that lead to the suffering. The seduction of getting relief creates a path to addiction, often requiring more and more, as the apprehension of possible discomfort increases.”
We have been duped by Pharma and their brigade of soldiers who peddled harmful substances to the public. We all sat in front of our televisions since the dawning of the blockbuster drugs as we were told to go to our doctors and ask for those drugs. The United States is the only country in the world who allows this type of hypnotic marketing and make no mistake, it is not so simple for the patient to “just say no”.
The difference between the pharmaceutical companies and doctors is businessmen do not take the Hippocratic Oath. The CEO of Pfizer may not be an ethical dude but he is not sworn to a healing oath. In this case it is the messenger who needs to own up. Johnson and Johnson is settling with the U.S. Justice Department for about 1.8 billion dollars for misrepresenting Risperdal in advertising. As far as one could tell nowhere in that settlement were harmed patients even mentioned, except for some civil suits alluded to in the fine print At the end of the day it is the clinicians who are charged with the task of watching out for patients. In a perfectly just world the pharmaceutical companies would be held accountable for much more than billions of dollars. Misdemeanors, which are part of the settlement, are laughable when you consider the scope of the atrocities.
We need drugs because we have lost all sense of purpose, direction and connection while the moral compass went south. These are the threads that lie below the prescriptions. In the search for soul we find that chronic drug use is the landscape for the absence of meaning. Another of Carl Jung’s great quotes tells us: “The least of things with a meaning is worth more in life than the greatest of things without it.” (from Modern Man in Search of a Soul)
In order to get back to an environment where we can manage the pent up emotions caused by decades of escapism and self-medication we must once again embrace the loss and grief that rampant depression designates. Recognition of the loss of one another points the way home. I will leave you with one more of Wendell Berry’s classic truism’s: “I don’t believe that grief passes away. It has it’s time and place forever. More time is added to it. It becomes a story within a story. But grief and griever alike endure.” If we can come to terms with the truth about loss, and what jewels can be found on the pathway ahead, we may no longer have a need for all of the obsessive drug taking.
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.