• Monica Smit

Through Aussie Eyes; USA's crippling Opioid Epidemic

Updated: May 8, 2020

I’m not your average ‘vacationer’. when I travel, I look for opportunities to understand a country’s culture…the good, great, bad and ugly truths. I have plenty of positive things to say about the United States, but the undertone of this article is mostly negative with a hint of hope.

I knew nothing about the opioid epidemic and had no intention to know more, until I stumbled across a councilman in Jacksonville, Florida who is on the front-line to battle this crisis. I don’t believe in accidents; I know I met him for a reason. Before I could object, I knew too much, it was too late to turn back.

People don’t want to talk about this. People don’t want to admit that their country made a big mistake, a mistake that is costing countless lives while ruining entire families and communities. Sports and politics are a much easier conversation then death and addiction.

Addiction isn’t a new epidemic in itself. Every generation has dealt with forms of addiction, so what makes this different? Inevitable death is what makes this different, plain and simple. Addiction to anything is debilitating, but when your addiction kills you quickly without notice…we have a unique problem on our hands. Alcoholism kills, obesity kills, sexual addiction can kill…but it’s a slow process. You have hundreds of chances for your conscious to wake you up. Prescription pills don’t kill you suddenly unless you take too many on purpose.

When a person can no longer get prescription pills, they turn to street heroin, it’s the only thing that comes close to the same feeling. To die from heroin alone is also quite uncommon. However nowadays heroin is most likely going to be laced with something called Fentanyl. Dealers use this to make their heroin better and to give the clients a better ‘high’. Dealers aren’t chemists, they aren’t scientists…they get the portions wrong and their clients unknowingly take their last hit and are dead while the needle is still in their arm.

Dr Raymond Pomm said Drug addiction used to be like playing Russian roulette with 6 chambers, now it’s like playing with 2 chamber…it’s only a matter of time”.

They’ve found fentanyl in cocaine, speed and even marijuana. Those of you out there who call yourselves ‘recreational drug users’. You aren’t addicted, you have a good job, a good life, you only partake if it’s offered at a party. I know who you are, I used to be you…but those days are over, it’s not worth it when you’re playing Russian roulette with your life.

I, like many others, have judged addicts. If someone is addicted to meth or heroin, it’s their fault. To me, it never made sense. I’ve been addicted to things before, but I beat it. I never stole in order to fulfil my addiction…so what’s their excuse?

The absolute bottom line is, you just don’t know what you don’t know! You don’t know how it feels to be addicted to heroin and/or opioids, you don’t know it’s power or how sick you feel when you try to stop…you JUST DON’T KNOW!!! No, you can’t compare it to cigarettes, alcohol or marijuana, it’s not the same. You could try the same drug as them, wake up the next day and continue with your ‘normal’ life, while your friend can’t stop and never breaks free. It’s a disease like any other disease, it just looks different and has a stigma attached to it. Enough is enough, we must see these addicts as sick people who need our help, not our judgement and condemnation.

I’m making a documentary on the opioid crisis and interviewed over 15 people about it. From doctors to emergency workers to grieving widows, I had a unique insight into this epidemic. More than I bargained for...

I heard stories about women doing drugs in Walmart restrooms while their toddlers ran around looking for them in the parking lot. Sons who visited the emergency room more than twice in ONE day while their mothers stood by helpless and broken.

No matter how addicted someone is, I just couldn’t get my head around the idea that someone would do things like this. I asked a Dr Pomm how could someone do that, what is it about these drugs that makes people do things so far from their moral compass. His answer was so simple but telling…

“Monica, Fentanyl is the highest any human being can get before they die, there is literally no ‘higher’ someone can be”. This is such a simple way to explain it, but it speaks volumes.

I also didn’t know that many addicts use to simply avoid the withdraw process. They don’t want to become visible high or impaired, they just want the sick feeling to go away. Dr Pomm said it takes at least 2-3 weeks to get through the physical sickness of withdrawing. It’s almost impossible to do it alone…so they just take enough to avoid withdrawing. These are the people you work with, go to church with, play sports with…these are your friends that are using and you don’t even know it.

A statement I heard from all my interviewees was that they don’t know anyone in their life who hasn’t been directly or indirectly affected by this epidemic. More people have died from this than the Vietnam war and the AIDS epidemic. I’ve met people who had an affluent life, got injured, got prescribed pain killers and got addicted…all without education or support from the health care system. No one even warned them, no one said anything…and now people are dying. Millions of Americans are addicted and there isn’t enough help for them. It’s like America has just disregarded that generation, hoping and praying the next generation stay away from the same ‘rabbit hole’.

Amount needed to DIE!!!

The fentanyl epidemic has been called a ‘weapon of mass destruction’. It’s made and shipped from China. In the wrong hands, fentanyl can kill thousands at once. I don’t want to give people an ideas, so I won’t mention the scenarios I’m thinking of. Just look at this picture and I’m sure your imagination can tell you the mass murder opportunities this substance has. This is much more dangerous than any

gun on the planet. The opioid epidemic was already a problem without fentanyl…now it’s a deadly epidemic. People are dying every day, every hour, maybe every minute.

I won’t blame the introduction of Fentanyl on USA only, however, the opioid epidemic which feeds this problem was indeed started by a USA family called the Sacklers. From 1990s to around 2010, they sold their pain killers freeing and widely. They promised they weren’t addiction and had no side effects. At the exact same time, pain became a 5thvital sign. Doctors were incentivised to cease all pain for their patients, so they prescribed them over and over. Patients had to fill out a survey to identify what their pain was. It was important for them to leave with zero pain, so pain killers were given out like candy.

I heard about this one town where there were more prescriptions filled for opioids than there were people to take them. It’s impossible the whole town needed pain relief…isn’t it?

Is it a coincidence that the ‘zero side-affect’ pills started being distributed at the same time as this new incentive program was rolled out in all hospitals in USA? I’ll let you decide that, but I know what I think.

The Sackler family are now being sued by whole states, class actions and anyone who has the money and time to sue them. Guess what though…I still get automatic voice calls asking me if I’m in pain and need some medication for it!!! It’s crazy, Americans now know about the epidemic, it’s no secret but it’s still a huge problem.

There’s still a stigma and there isn’t enough federal money being used to fix the problem. The only hope I can give you is that there are programs around USA trying to combat this. One I know of is in Jacksonville, Florida. It’s called ‘Project save lives’. When a patient goes into emergency with an overdose, a peer recovery specialist is assigned to them straight away. They talk with them and try to convince them to go straight to a recovery centre instead of going back on the streets. It’s been working!!! I know there are similar projects around the country, but there needs to be MORE of them.

Stopping overdose patients from overdosing again is great, it literally saves lives. However, there needs to be more work and money put into high school education on the topic. There should be no limit to the amount of money spent on this. If you care about your country, if you care about your citizens…the time for action is yesterday!!!

You can’t claim ignorance anymore; you know what is happening. It is a life or death situation, it’s your choice America….do you choose life or not???

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To learn more about Project Save Lives in Jacksonville, watch this.

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