As I listened to the recent ABC interview with Vicki Cornell and her affiliation with The Addiction Policy Forum, I kept asking myself why there still wasn't anyone that was completely getting the missing part of this benzo dependency connection. Then it srtuck me how the media was covering only the connection to addictions, and not how these drugs were actually impacting so many of who have never had substance abuse issues prior to benzos.
I do agree that there needs to be more information made available to doctors who should know about patients prior addictions issues. It's also true that they should not be prescribing benzos or other addictive medications to people with prior histories such as Chris Cornell, but there is a greater piece to this puzzle that they still aren't quite seeing. While celebrities do bring lazer focused attention to huge problems such as these, the media often focuses on the part of the issue that impacts that particular celebrity and not the general population that is being affected by this in a whole different way that has to do with more than just addiction. In addition, I want to ad that I was deeply saddened myself by this tragic loss last May and not diminishing the part of this story that still is and has been a huge problem for some time now.
However, the real part of the issue is the tragic fact that many of us who were put on these drugs like myself, never had addiction or substance abuse issues prior to taking this drug as prescribed by our doctor. These doctors were people we all entrusted our lives and health to that should have given us all full disclosure on what these drugs could possibly do to us. Instead, we were all fed a very effective marketing campaign called "Ask Your Doctor," that encouraged us all to run to the nearest healthcare practitioner and quell our human emotions with a pill designed to take all the pain away. We have all been told that it's abnormal to be depressed, anxious or fearful about the circumstances that life hands us.
Instead of being taught healthy coping skills and how to manage our stress, we all embraced this "Get Happy" Campaign and unknowingly agreed to becoming legal drug addicts in the process. Now that we have all been socialized into this "pass the pill" healthcare system, we aren't seeing where the hemorrhaging all started or what parts of it are really in need of a tourniquet.
Then when we focus on an event like Chris Cornell's death as the only part of the problem, we are disregarding a huge part of the population that isn't being heard and is suffering from the lack of voice being given to their part of issue. An issue that we as a society don't see as a problem if we aren't directly impacted by it. At least not on the surface anyway.
However, I'm here to tell you that it very much is impacting every single one of us in ways we just haven't felt completely at this juncture.
As the stories roll into my email box and I compare them with my own journey, the dots connect to the part of the puzzle that is hidden in the shadows of our disability system. If we don't put a tourniquet on this part of the bleeding, it is my belief that the very structure will completely come crashing in on us and we could see the biggest clean up job ever in the history of our country and most likely the world. I have dozens of people I have spoken with over the last couple of years who had to go on disability because they were too sick to work during the withdrawal, which is a lengthy process for most of us. Then there are countless people who went on disability due to other circumstances caused by the benzos that no one is telling us about. The result is a 30% increase in mental health related disabilities since the 1990's.
We have 90 million people taking benzodiazepines worldwide, and many of them are just like myself and who are assuming their heath issues are related to other things. They just aren't making the connection that the drugs are what could be making them sick. I went from doctor to doctor looking for answers when I started getting sick after going on Ativan for insomnia and anxiety in 1999. The problems is, the doctors are also being taught that the drugs are relatively safe, and they aren't making the connection either. At least not enough of them.
Prior to that first pill, I didn't even take an aspirin. I had never had an addiction to alcohol or street drugs. I did smoke my share of pot as a teenager, but stop that abruptly years prior to the benzos and never had one withdrawal symptom. Yet in 1970, the Nixon campaign did a very effective job of demonizing marijuana by making it a class I narcotic. Benzos are still to this day only considered a class IV narcotic.
So, there was slow indoctrination into the safety of pharmaceutical drugs versus street drugs. After all, I was very clear by all the information I received how dangerous street drugs were, but never informed by an "acceptable" medical model that benzos or any other legal substance could possible cause the damage to my health and nervous system that it did. I took the warning about street drugs very seriously and know I would have with benzos if the information had been fairly represented to me. My story is the story of thousands of other people in online support groups and on You Tube channels.
Because the Psychiatric Association has done such an effective job of creating a mass production of mental health labels and clinics to deliver those diagnosis in throughout the country, we bought the labels along with the drugs that they were pushing. Instead of the population questioning the doctors, we are condoning the message that they are selling and turning a deaf ear to the people who suffer from reactions to these drugs because "of course they must be mental health patients or addicts".
Meanwhile, they suffer in silence without so much as a compassionate voice in the night from the horrible demons of benzo withdrawal and tolerance. The endless sleepless nights, the fear and panic that accompany electrical zaps, excruciating pain, suicidal thoughts, akathisia, the rage of hissing in their ears, balance issues, light sensitivity, major G.I. distress, numbness, tingling, cognitive impairment, dysphoria,agoraphobia, black outs, dizziness and the list goes on.
The isolation that has come from the last decade of recovery has been one of the worst challenges for me, as I worked in entertainment and love the interaction with people. To recover your nervous system it requires hours of time alone with no noise or exposier to stimuli of any kind. I believe it is nearly impossible for anyone who hasn't experienced this kind of trauma to ever really understand it, because it's all so unimaginable to even toughs of us who endure the incredible pain and hopelessness that comes with recovering from these drugs.
This is why the suicide rate is so high from these drugs. Every which way we all turn, we are invalidated by the medical community, our families and people who have no idea what it is to overcome something like this with no community or social support systems. By social systems, I don't mean going to some N.A. meeting. Not to discredit N.A., but when I tried to go to a meeting, I couldn't stand how dis-empowered I felt when I was required to introduce myself as an addict. That was even when I could drag myself out of the house to get to a meeting.
I have mentioned in videos and other blogs how I believe these drugs have created a whole medical model for which we so far have no treatments in place other than another pill. That unfortunately doesn't work for most of us, and we're fearful about taking anything else because of what is happening with the benzos. The stories I hear are just like mine of the countless E.R. visits we all made, only to be told "we were fine," and sent home with no explanation of why we felt so sick and had so many bizarre symptoms. I estimate this could be costing our healthcare system billions of dollars in medical bills that will grow out of control as many more people who are on these drugs hit tolerance.
These people need alternative treatments that cost money as they aren't covered by insurance. Even treatment centers are so profit driven that they have time restraints to get you off the drug. They are forced to take people off much faster than they can handle, and they relapse because rapid withdrawal from these drugs is not the solution to getting them better sooner. If they don't learn good lifestyle manage in the process of getting off the drug, they will never learn to cope well without the drugs.
So to label the problem as just an issue of addiction is way over simplifying something that is far more complex and misunderstood.. It's a social disease that goes way deeper than being able to fix the problem with a pill and 1 hours worth of counseling a week. It's going to require a major overall of our mental health system, which is too invested in drug profits and not concerned about compassionate care.