August, 31: International Overdose Awareness Day
Text: Marina Borovaya
Jimmy Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, Billie Holiday, Amy Winehouse, Prince – does it feel too far away? How about that Norway “tops heroin overdose ranking” in comparison to other European countries, according to ‘The Local’.
67 in Norway died of overdoses for every million inhabitants, comparing to just 19 per million in Europe as a whole, indicates European Drug Report 2016. Most of us would be surprised how much closer to the problem of overdosing we currently are, even if we don’t use illegal drugs. Government along with pharmaceutical companies supplies us with enough legal substances for it to become a problem. Thereby I mean people who easily empty six beers on a Saturday night, friends taking Paracet and other painkillers on every small occasion and this guy who has been prescribed Dexedrine to treat his ADHD and seems to become very hooked on it. Actually more people these days die due to the overdose of prescribed drugs and alcohol, rather than illegal substances. Whether the substance is legal or not it might be dangerous and addictive.
Stigma surrounding the word ‘overdose’ doesn’t make it easier for people who happen to deal with it and their family members. Especially when it comes to illegal drugs, people often shake their heads in fear and disgust. Don’t turn your back on people who need help, by putting them on the edge of the society.
According to Johann Hari’s book “Chasing the scream: The First and Last days of The War on Drugs” the truth about addiction is that it is caused by the lack of connection. Isn’t it a drug that causes addiction? An experiment on rats conducted by Professor Bruce K. Alexander shows that the mechanism of addiction is not that simple. Scientists put a rat in a cage, where it was offered two reservoirs with water. One of them contained heroin and the other one was just regular water. The rat was more and more often choosing the heroin containing water and died of an overdose shortly after. But the interesting result appeared in another setting. Many rats were put inside the same cage together. They were given enough food, both clean and drug containing water and were put in a playground, where they could socialize and have fun. A rat park, so to speak. The fascinating thing about it is that in this case, the rats almost never used the drugged water, none of them was abusing it and no one ever overdosed.
Another experiment in the Vietnam War illustrates exactly the same pattern. Over 20% of the American troops were using heroin. News reports from this time reveal that people were really concerned about these soldiers coming home, being heroin addicts when the war was over. But that never happened. They didn’t have to go to rehabilitation, 95% of the soldiers just stopped using heroin when they came back to their families and friends. According to professor Alexander, addiction is not about chemical hooks, it is about adaptation to environments.
Therefore it is pointless to talk about individual recovery, we need to start talking about society’s recovery and reconsider the way we look at overdose and closely connected with it the problem of addiction. Only by becoming less judgmental and more open-minded we can fight problems facing our society. Love and take care of each other, because this is the only thing that really makes a difference in the world.