Tim Murphy: Cutting access key to addiction fight

From the Salem Statesman Journal, July 7, 2012 – guest opinion by Tim Murphy.

Addiction stole my friend.

Addiction steals parents from children, daughters from mothers and loved ones from their lovers. Addiction robs you of your present and disintegrates your dreams. Addiction can steal your life.

Tim Murphy, CEO at Bridgeway Recovery Services

Tim Murphy, CEO at Bridgeway Recovery Services

It is often said that Alzheimer’s is a brain disease that robs you of your memory and in doing so destroys your past. Addiction too is a brain disease that, instead of your past, destroys your future.

No one wants to develop Alzheimer’s and no one sets out to become addicted to substances such as alcohol, amphetamines or opiates. Once you begin using any of these substances, your brain becomes affected and, in most cases, desires more. Those desires evolve into cravings and those cravings can become unbearable pains that require relief.

Currently in our community we are witness to a surge in opiate addiction and, as a result, heroin use. Recently the Statesman Journal brought this “epidemic” into focus with a series of articles regarding the growing use of heroin in Salem and throughout Oregon.

The hydraulics that work together to create this epidemic are both complicated and controversial. For the past decade there has been an unprecedented demand for pain management medication. Nationally there began a laser-like focus on identifying and relieving pain.

Nurses are trained and required to assess hospital patients’ pain several times a day. Every outpatient physician visit often involves a question regarding a patient’s experience of pain. Once identified, the pain must be attacked with an intervention meant to reduce that pain. Too frequently that intervention is an opiate-based medication that can lead to dependence, cravings and outright addiction.

How does heroin fit into this discussion? Simple. As the availability of prescribed opiate-based pain relievers decreases, the demand for street drugs like heroin increases.

Heroin acts on the brain in a similar way to how opiate-based medicine acts. It can relieve pain and, at the same time, develop a craving for more. That craving can become a force so powerful that you will do anything to address it. Anything.

Once you are addicted, all you want is relief, and the bridge from oxycodone to heroin is an easy one to cross.

At Bridgeway Recovery Services, we see the aftermath of this cycle of addiction every day. The good news is is that we can treat opiate addiction effectively, and an important part of that treatment is reducing access to the drugs.

Salem Hospital recently held a press conference indicating that they recognized the issue and are committed to reducing the prescription of addictive opiate pain relievers in the emergency room. Our colleagues in private practice need to join the effort. In the coming months, Bridgeway will be participating in a community-wide conversation meant to educate the public on the dangers of opiate addiction and heroin use.

We need to attack addiction but refrain from attacking addicts. Addicts need treatment, and we know how to treat them. When we provide treatment, people find relief from the pain and relief from addiction, and they recover their lost lives. We invite all of you to join us in this effort.

Tim Murphy of Salem is chief executive officer of Bridgeway Recovery Services. He can be reached at tmurphy @ bridgewayrecovery.com.