Like most of you I feel the need to make money to support the people who to one degree or another depend on me to do that. Of course, over the years, a lot of my energy was expended to meet my own personal needs. However, looking at a “current events” phenomenon that has recently come to my attention I’ve had to ask myself: Would I be willing to earn big money if it involved “throwing other people under the bus” so to speak?
I’m sure that Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha) was talking about that when he spoke of “right livelihood.” I am never going to achieve peace of mind if earning money involves harming other people. This is clearly not a problem for some large corporations in America today, especially Big Pharma. Like Big Tobacco in years past they have products that they would like us to try that must be perfectly safe or they wouldn’t be selling them. Right? Doctors and psychiatrists are “peddling” these chemicals in alarming quantities. What are they and why are millions of Americans consuming them by the handfuls?
Let’s begin at the beginning. Our species, Homo sapiens lives on a planet with ample resources to provide all the members of our Global village enough “money” for all to have food, clothing and shelter. And yet, instead of coming together as one human family (which we are), we often mistakenly “see” our neighbors as the threatening other due to differences in religion, skin color, sexual preferences, ethnicity and other differences that are not fundamental distinctions. In truth, we are all fundamentally exactly alike. As Shylock said in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice referring to being a Jew experiencing anti-Semitism, in effect remarked: “If we are wounded, do we not bleed?” Who among us is less than human?
Indeed, who among us when wounded fails to bleed? But what if we wound ourselves at a deep psychological level and do so unconsciously? What if we have chosen a worldview composed of beliefs, attitudes and values that are self-destructive? What if our human community were to experience the destruction of our planet on which we all depend for sustenance? What if we were to experience continuous warfare due to competing nations and sectarian religious rivalry? What if we were facing nuclear holocaust, ethnic cleansing? What if women were often facing domestic and workplace violence and assault? What if we were aware that pandemics were a constant threat? OK! That’s probably enough to set the stage for the problem we want to address next.
That problem is substance addiction and the relationship between Big Pharma and the medical profession. Once a drug is approved in the U.S. doctors have a lot of freedom to prescribe it often before the long term implications are known. Dr. Allen Frances, a professor emeritus of psychiatry at Duke University reveals the consequences: “Most people are put on these drugs in primary care, after a very brief visit and without clear symptoms of clinical depression. Usually there’s improvement, and often it’s based on the passage of time or placebo effect.”
Often both the patient and the doctor are giving the antidepressant credit that it doesn’t deserve. “Both are reluctant to stop what appears to be a winner, and the useless prescription may be continued for years—or a lifetime.”
Historian of psychiatry at the University of Toronto, Edward Shorter, helps define the magnitude of our growing addiction to drugs. “We’ve come to a place, at least in the West, where it seems every other person is depressed and on medication. You do have to wonder what that says about our culture.” Attempts at addressing the widespread addiction has led to an alarming realization called discontinuation syndrome.
Many patients who try to stop taking their drugs say they cannot quit. “In a recent survey of 250 long-term users of psychiatric drugs—most commonly antidepressants—about half who wound down their prescriptions rated the withdrawal as severe. Nearly half who tried to quit could not do so because of these symptoms.” Development of this so-called discontinuation syndrome varied by individuals, the treatment and dosage prescribed.
The question we are not yet asking because we may not want to know the answer is why are such a large percentage of people in the West experiencing pain, suffering and depression? And has our existential anxiety and eagerness to address this alarming reality caused us to desperately grasp at illusory pseudo solutions and unwittingly “throw people under the bus” so the rest of us can feel that something is being done to solve the problem. Could it be that all of us are in the path of that bus?
Insight # 31: An addiction keeps us unaware of what is going on inside us.
- See Addiction in The ABC’s of Simple Reality, in print and also found on this blog, by Roy Charles Henry, 2018.
- Carey, Benedict and Robert Gebeloff. “The Murky Perils of Quitting Antidepressants After Years of Use.” The New York Times. April 8, 2018, page 17.