We are in the midst of an epidemic of opioid addiction and death. Almost everyone knows someone living an opioid addiction or who has died from one. And they all have the same question: why can’t we, didn’t we, stop?
Why, they wonder, do we hock, trade, sell everything we own; why do we steal and hurt the ones we love just to get our roxies, dilaudid, our heroin? But the answer to that question is really very simple. If you understand.
I started using heroin in 1976 when I was 20 years old. For the next 13 years I used occasionally, never enough to become addicted. I earned a B.A. in Psychology, a Masters in Experimental Psychology, and a Doctorate in Biopsychology. After I completed the Doctorate in 1987 I was awarded a National Institute on Drug Abuse Post-Doctoral Fellowship in the Pharmacology and Toxicology Department at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.
My area of research was Behavioral Pharmacology which is the study of how drugs affect the brain and behavior. During all of this time I was still, on occasion, using. In April of 1989 I got into a bottle of methadone hydrochloride from the Behavioral Pharmacology lab and the whole time I was shooting that methadone I told myself that I would stop. And I believed that. Until I couldn’t.
For the next 22 years I lived the life of opioid addiction. The last year and a half of my addiction I was homeless; living on the streets and sleeping on the ground, homeless shelters, and people’s floors. The last time I used an opioid was December 11th, 2011.
I am sharing this because I want you to know that I understand what your child, what your loved one, experiences in their addiction. I have lived it. And that because of my education and research, I also understand the neurocircuitry, neuropharmacology, and behavioral aspects of opioid addiction.
I believe in science. I believe in its truth. And science has shown that opioid addiction is a disease of brain structure and, thus, function. The continual intake of these opioids, day after day, year after year, alters the brain on a cellular, molecular, basis. These alterations are opioid addiction. And they are manifested as behavior directed toward the survival of the individual.
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