Recently I did something I’ve never done before. I listen to public radio, both the national one and our local public radio station. In fact, it’s basically the only radio I turn on. I spend lots of time in the car and alone at home, so it’s my constant friend. I love it. The other day, driving to work, I heard that a show that includes public interaction. This particular show was the Friday news roundup that includes pertinent stories from the previous week.
One story that had a deep effect on me was about a century bike ride where two women riders were killed by a young woman driver who plowed into them with a car. As the story unfolded, it became clear this woman had been stopped earlier in the day, was driving without a license, was impaired on a prescription medication and was ‘borrowing’ the car that hit the cyclist. Two others, the person that loaned her the car, and the person giving her the medication were also implicated.
Later in the week, I responded to a call for a young child who was struck by a driver while walking on a sidewalk with his mother. They had just stepped onto the sidewalk from his daycare. This driver was also impaired by a prescription medication. He, luckily, was fairly OK, although eventually was flown to a level one trauma facility to be observed for a head bleed. It was a miracle he wasn’t killed. The driver of the vehicle was on the way to pick up her own children from school.
It struck me as I was driving to swim, that I needed to address this issue of prescription drug abuse in this state and country given my experience as a paramedic. I see it constantly–much more than illicit drug overdoses. We all think of drug addicts as the punks on the street in the dark alleys waiting for their next fix. But in reality, it’s more often your neighbor who may have been hurt at work, then prescribed some narcotic and is now hooked. Or someone with depression or anxiety, who just can’t get out of the medication cycle because western doctors are too lazy or don’t have the time or knowledge to help them find healthier ways to get well. Sometimes sadly, they simply get kickbacks from the drug companies if they push their products.
So now we are a society of walking zombies. Real zombies that plow into innocent people riding their bikes or ripping children out of their parent’s hands! They might as well be zombies! They stand on the scene, deadpan in a trance-like state with no idea what havoc they have just created in this families life! And maybe, at the time, they don’t care because they are under the influence of the drug.
It’s all too easy. Too easy for kids to get ahold of these medications also. They have parties and dump a bunch in a pile and just take them, having no idea what will happen. And then end up in an emergency room after being driven there by their friends barely breathing. They don’t want to call an ambulance because they are too afraid. Believe me, I know. Someone very close to me almost died just like this from a Fentanyl overdose. They don’t have a clue how powerful these drugs can be. They think it’s a game.
The media talks about heroin, bath salts, crack, synthetic marijuana. And I’m not saying these aren’t bad too. But more attention needs to be paid on the stuff right in our medicine cabinets. Benadryl, oxycodone, Ativan, even all the cardiac drugs. Just a few days after my email was read we responded to a call for a 62-year-old female who overdosed on about four of her medications, including Atenolol. That’s just a blood pressure medication. But in fact, that was the most dangerous one as her blood pressure was plummeting because of taking too much.
Sixty two years old! This is not a kid. New onset depression brought her in to see a doctor and what does he do? Give her lots of anxiety and depression medications. What does she do? Overdoses on them and tries to commit suicide!
Something is drastically wrong with our system! We need to look at it and soon. Before more people kill themselves and others. At least that’s what I think. Here’s what I wrote and was read on the air:
I’ve been an avid cyclist/triathlete, but more importantly I’m currently a full time paramedic in Fire Department. I was on a call recently for a young pedestrian hit by a car. The common factor in these two stories is that the drivers were impaired by prescription medications: Fentanyl in the case of the cyclists and Ativan in the case of the pedestrian. While the media coverage seems to bring much attention to drugs like heroin, we in fact respond to more calls to prescription overdoses. I personally feel there should be more attention paid by primary care doctors to dispensing these medications, more education to our children and finally more media coverage to this abuse. It’s not just about blaming the addict, we as a society must take more responsibility. Thank you.
Maybe someday Primary Care Doctors will take the time to do more than just give a pill. We are thinking, feeling, physical, soulful creatures. We need to attend to all parts of ourselves. Thank goodness when I went through many years of depression (never diagnosed), I never went to see anyone! Many pushed me to go. But I knew as long as I could workout I would probably be OK. I hit some very low spots, but somehow I made it–with a little help from my friends.
I truly believe there are other ways out besides just a pill. At least be mindful when they are dispensed and have a system that tracks someone’s use. Hospitals talk to hospitals–doctors offices talk to each other too! Once hooked, these people are smart and will find their drugs and go looking from one doctor to another. We have to make it harder. Lower the dosages, lower the pill amounts dispensed. Don’t give it out like candy.
Until then, we all must be diligent and help the people we know that may be over using medications. Help them to understand that it becomes as dangerous as heroin. Don’t stand back and be silent. You may end up saving their life–or someone else’s.