Published:  01:18 AM, 10 November 2017

Toying with addiction

Toying with addiction

Downtown, Miami. A beautiful, teenage girl lies groaning. This is America's reeking pain. And this nation's paradox. Today's US, the global super power, the robust and the mighty, which rules over the destinies of nations spread across the oceans. The economic giant. Undeniably the greatest, most powerful, influencing force on this planet.

Drugs are the leading causes of death in the US. As its citizens continue to toy with addiction in alarming numbers, the country's romance with lethal overdose has surpassed fanatic shooting deaths and fatal traffic accidents, nationwide.

We really need to grasp the cataclysmic rise in our nation's obsession, and its abuse of drugs. Compare our society's love affair with addiction, to the general rise of cardiac diseases, which had occupied a berth as the country's number one killer, till the middle of twentieth century.

It took heart disease only 15 years to double itself. With the wonderful improvements in quality of life in this country, both the dietary habits and lifestyle had unfortunately come to be severely compromised. Disease of the heart, climbed rapidly to occupy the slot of the number one killer in the US and the civilized world. Followed, by a menace of yet powerful proportions ...the American addiction!

Heroin related deaths in the US increased manifolds, an astonishing 439% between 1999 and 2014. Lethal drug abuse and related deaths have more than tripled in five years in United States. More than 20 million people, who choose to live here, are current or former drug addicts. Moreover, the tally keeps on climbing!

Indeed, it is the most significant and contributing factor in our society's fabric that has ruined lives, and tore away our individual or personal relationships. A trail of victims is always left behind. To share tragic stories of men and women in pain, that includes the young and the old. Addiction has affected all of us, directly or indirectly, without prejudice.... to our race, color, ethnicity, origins social status or heritage.

Our Infatuation with the abuses of prescription and a variety of drugs available in our streets now cost more than 18 billion dollars in the efforts to fix the evil. A colossal sum of money therefore, is siphoned off the public exchequer, year after year, with no relief to its bewildered scapegoats.

Our pursuits of abuse lead us to rocketing incarceration rates, domestic acts of violence, loss of jobs and missed opportunities. All these keep rising week after week and month after month; thereby exposing the society's 'scums', leaving many to live in shadows and margins. Yet, the habit continues to cherish itself, as it reverberates in minds to engage and commit people, to further suck in addicts that are more new and new blood.

What are we dealing with? Cold, harsh statistics. Painful truths. Can the system rehabilitate our struggling souls, who are consumed by our habits and also by the drugs  of choice.

Traffic accidents, education problems and loss of employment are linked directly to drug addiction, as the American society spread across in the suburbs of urban metropolis. United States has seriously struggled with its heavy burden of costs that go there in the making of travails, to eradicate this mess.

Prescription drug abuse is yet another stigma that continues to provide convulsions in our moral compass and collective conscience. At least the Federal government acknowledges this a serious malaise, in the annals of our vast and broken healthcare system. More than 30% of the population of this country has used the loopholes in this broken system to enjoy access to drugs, for their non-medical recreation!

There is yet another dimension to this monster, the chronic malaise. Sixty years ago, the new antidepressants were introduced to help people who were sad, and therefore deemed to be sick. Doctors had always perceived this as something that is separate from the general human experiences of sadness in life.

Let us join Hippocrates in the fifth century BC, who conjectured that the human body was made up of four 'humors', and the intensity with which it discharged black 'bile', through the spleen, this resulted in the unhappiness of mind, and for reference, they coined the term 'melancholia'. I heard this word fifty years ago, when our family physician in Dhaka, Syed Jafar Hasan, had once referred in passing. In his local equivalent term, he called this 'malakholia'!

The period in Greek history acknowledged the disease to accompany dark moods and deep layered sadness that betrayed reasoning. What were the treatment options available in history? Inducement to Sleep, vomiting and the ancient practice of 'bleeding'. The Middle Ages inherited the societal disease of sadness, and must have traced its origins in their concept of human body, partly or fully taken over by demonic spirits.

Like the wonder drug and antibiotic Penicillin , which owes its discovery  to an accident, a new drug called 'iproniazid', developed to cure tuberculosis, also gained emergence by another accident, to turn around and revolutionize the treatment of depression.

This was a different wonder drug, and different potpourri of cocktails to hit the pharmacies sixty years ago. Soon, to be replaced by the new generation drug 'imipramine'. There was the money and scope to harvest millions,  in this nascent and thriving drug industry.

In the eighties, the 'Prozac' made the biggest hit. In the first three years after reaching the market, nearly 2.0 million people had taken it, and the numbers had shot up in the sky!

Today, the sick and the dysfunctional are finally getting ready to welcome one therapy that is more new and a potent, new drug. Statistics reveal that, of the large number of depressed people that our society churns out, at least 30% of them do not respond sufficiently, in medical terms, to the options available for treatments.

Available drugs aim to aid some, and not all dysfunctional people, diagnosed with depression. At least 12% of Americans suffer from the mind's disease and are simply unable to function. New vocabulary has been added to understand what is going on...anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder, migraines and sleep disorders.

A breakthrough has occurred in the world of depression drugs, after nearly a quarter century. As new research has emerged, the sadness of depression is not referred any more, as a bulky or colossal disease, but a potpourri of many smaller afflictions of the mind. The specialist doctors treat each component of the ailing mind, separately. With the highest ever-ongoing suicide rate in US, we need to hurry up in our efforts to overcome this emergency!

The grand 'rediscovery' of  a potent drug called ketamine is fast completing trials at FDA, and is most likely to reach the pharmacy shelves in the coming year. Will this potent, wonder drug have the efficacy to offer new hopes or long-term cures? Another happy pill, perhaps? Doctors are happy. This wonder drug offers many promises, in the latest arrivals of antidepressants drugs.

Time magazine in its recent issue, heralded the birth and global application of the wonder drug...'ketamine'. Anesthesiologists love this to knock of surgical patients. Smaller doses offer the club goers a 'treat' and a trip to hallucinate. It is the only available 'legal' and psychedelic drug in the western world, and the choice drug of abuse in Asia.

The miracle cure of ketamine helps people in losing 'connection' temporarily from their bodies and thoughts that depress them. The author highlighted a paradigm shift that has the ability to 'achieve rapid antidepressant effects'. I spoke to some industry specialists, who state that the new drug stimulates a series of receptors in the brain to trigger its sick and affected parts; in its process to heal, change and grow back!

The Pharmaceutical industry is always on the look out to manufacture breakthrough  drugs that aid the depressed people of our civilized Western Hemisphere.

There is more money to be minted, as new opportunities dawn, in our capitalist societies. Where, the race is more inclined to reap profits rather than deliver a long-term cure for the ill and the functionally disabled. New research...new avenues...exploding markets, and a health industry that is burdened to take care of the sick and debilitated, through the vast resources at its disposal.

We, however forget. We have failed to address this infirmity, or even provide token acknowledgment of the suffering caused to so many of the young, the ailing and the dysfunctional generation. They go through their pain, every day of life, because they continue to toy with their addiction.

The writer is based in Florida, USA

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