In 2016 between *59,000 and 65,000 Americans died from an opioid or heroin overdose. Whether it’s legally prescribed opioid painkillers or illegally obtained prescription opioid, fentanyl or heroin, the news is not good.

Everyday, people with an opioid addiction walk into the NYC program I direct and ask for help. Some come on their own, others are mandated by the courts for treatment.

They are from all walks of life: college students and college dropouts, union members, lawyers and doctors, bus drivers and electricians, architects and secretaries, teachers and celebrities. They range in age from young adolescents to the elderly. They’re from many ethnic and religious backgrounds–no one group is immune.

Many began by taking prescription opioids recreationally, to relax, or to relieve pain. Some have moved on to heroin, which is paradoxically often cheaper and easier to obtain.

One of the biggest threats to life is fentanyl, which can be used to make fake prescription opioids or is cut with various fillers to make heroin and is then sold on the street. Every time someone buys heroin, they put their life at risk–only a few grains of fentanyl are a lethal dose and though drug dealers want to keep addicts alive, after all, they are an “income stream”, the temptation for very high profit margins is too much for some. Sometimes, street drug dealers themselves have no idea that the heroin they’re selling is laced with fentanyl.

That being said, people overdoes from genuine heroin and genuine prescription opioids every day.

The Root-Behind-The-Root Cause

Study after study shows conflicting evidence about the antecedents to drug addiction. Some people are more prone genetically to addiction. Some drugs are more addicting. People start using drugs because of peer pressure. They start because they are in emotional or physical pain. Lack of impulse control and other emotional problems due to family-of-origin abuse leads to drug use. Scholastic and other pressures from high-achieving families-of-origin leads to drug use. Loneliness leads to drug use. Socializing leads to drug use. Low intellectual ability. Highly intelligence and lack of intellectual stimulation. And so on.

Opioid use in particular is telling. It relieves physical pain and emotional dissonance. It numbs out the world. It can temporarily relieve anxiety and give a sense of well-being without any effort.

What is the deepest root cause of abuse of opioids? An inability to believe in one’s own personal value and the absolute importance of one’s life.

This should be instilled at home by loving families, but in many cases, parents themselves lack belief in themselves and sadly, don’t recognize the unique worth of their child, either.

Parents can have poor coping skills and can be unable to transmit a good foundation to their child. Even if they do, we have to recognize that difficulties in school, social difficulties, peer pressure, and other life challenges can derail a child or teen even one who has a support structure and reasonably healthy self-esteem. While suicide because of unrelenting bullying is an extreme reaction, taking a “chill pill” or getting high to deal with the pain of rejection or bullying is common.

Faith and spirituality are such an important part of addiction treatment because they too can strengthen one’ belief in the importance of one’s life and the intrinsic value of one’s life. If you deeply believe that your life is of inestimable value, and that life itself is a precious gift, you are far less likely to take unhealthy risks with it.

 

 

 

*New York Times data