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America Does Have A Drug Problem, Just Not What Politicians Would Have You Believe by Rev. J.T. Smith

[Full disclosure: On January 23, 2013, I survived a hemorrhagic stroke that initially left me completely paralyzed from the neck down on my dominant side, and reduced my hearing and peripheral vision on the same side.  While I am ambulatory once more and I've regained some use of my dominant hand and arm, I'm still trying to overcome that my stamina is still vastly diminished compared to my former normal, that my thermal-tactile sense is glitchy at best on my dominant side, and that the only time I'm not in constant pain is when I'm asleep.  More recently, I've learned that I have osteoarthritis in both hips, though initially only "presenting" on my non-stroke affected side which adds to the overall pain I experience on any given day.  And that 1-10 pain scale is relative to each person where a 9 for one person is a 4 for another.  (e.g. My accidentally nicking an exposed a nerve in one of my back teeth by biting an onion slice on my hoagie and driving it into my tooth hurt far more than when I broke my left elbow or when I broke my right wrist such that it now has a metal plate and screws installed.)  All of which should be kept in mind when reading my following article.]

        America has a drug problem.  I’m not referring to the “war on drugs” which has resulted in the persecution and disproportionate incarceration of people of colour, I'm referring to a prevalent attitude in America.  And while what I'm talking about may seem like I'm merely conflating separate issues, it needs to be realized that I'm describing is a multi-faceted series of different drug problems that in reality all together add up to a very large overall drug problem.
        One facet of the overall problem is the recreational use of drugs.  Not only does this include the use of illicit drugs (
in 2013, an estimated 24.6 million Americans aged 12 or older—9.4 percent of the population—had used an illicit drug in the past month. This number is up from 8.3 percent in 2002) and drugs like marijuana (which is gaining in acceptance and transitioning from illicit to legal), it also includes the use of legal drugs like alcohol.  You had a bad day?  You don’t like your situation in life.  Then use your (preferably legal) drug of choice.  It’s almost like Americans are trying to prove Darwin was wrong.

        But it doesn’t end there.  Another facet I’m referring to the pharmaceutical complex in America often referred to as “Big Pharma” and the ever expanding impact that they have.  While Big Pharma does serve a useful purpose in creating lifesaving vaccines and medications for genuine medical conditions, the reality is that they have absolutely no intention of creating any more actual cures.  Let's face it, they're still kicking themselves for curing polio.  The simple reality is that there’s no profit in curing anything when they can help you to “just live with it”.  If you're taking a medication for the rest of you're life then that's not a cure at all, it's merely living with it!  If you took you're car to the mechanic to fix a transmission, but you still had to constantly add transmission fluid to it, you wouldn't consider your transmission actually fixed now would you?

        To exacerbate this is still another facet: There’s the constant adverts for the latest drug aimed at the general public with the goal of the consumer asking for a certain drug rather than the far more logical approach where your doctor tells you what drugs you should use, if any.  While many countries allow over-the-counter drugs to be advertised, only the United States and New Zealand allows prescription drugs to be advertised on television.  Frankly, Big Pharma has abused this tolerance by pushing drugs that may not be effective or applicable to their conditions on viewers.  In the United States, TV adverts for pharmaceuticals must list the major side effects that were detected during the drug's safety trials; this disclosure can give the false impression that older drugs (i.e. the ones that came out before TV advertising was an option) are safer than all these “newfangled” drugs, when in fact the older drugs tend to have just as many side effects as the new ones do. (e.g. The litany of side effects for aspirin would fill several pages.)  Not only that, but in 2015 there were more than 1 million reports of drug side effects were file, an increase of five-fold since 2004.  These are drugs used to treat diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, multiple sclerosis, cancer, and diabetes are among those with the greatest number of reports.  What’s more, as demonstrated by the myriad lawsuits resulting from consequent injuries from the use of so many of these “latest and greatest” drugs, pharmaceutical companies rush their latest chemical “miracle” before they’ve properly and extensively tested them.  Between modern knowledge of chemistry and the capability of creating complex computer models capable of creating predictive interaction models, the vast majority of side effects should already be either eliminated before they ever go to market or should keep the new drug in question from getting to market in the first place.
        Still, that’s just a part of the overall problem.  Another facet is that it seems that for every minor problem there’s a drug.  Since direct-to-consumer drug advertising debuted, Big Pharma’s credo has been: “When the medication is ready, the disease (and patients) will appear.”  Who knew so many people suffered from restless legs?  And they’re effectively creating new “diseases” all the time or blowing conditions like ADHD way out of proportion.  There wouldn't be such an issue if we stopped trying to schedule every nanosecond of a child's life and let them learn naturally through this crazy thing called playing.  I don't mean sports or any other structuralized format but just let them have fun, make it up as they go, and free-form explore the world around them without panicking because of scrapes and bruises.

        Furthermore, yet another aspect is that far too many psychiatrists and other doctors are more readily inclined to prescribe drugs for nearly every malady, whether it be physical or mental illness, rather than turning to other means and methods like actually getting people to accept that the universe is an inherently unfair place and to find ways of changing the aspects of your life that you can change and dealing with those aspects you cannot change.  While it’s not easy, doing that without the use of drugs can be done successfully.

        This particular issue of the push for drugs to solve all of the woes was brought into clear focus for me while I was going through a psychological evaluation at the Penn Foundation regarding the Depression I've been dealing with for decades and was exacerbated by the stroke I survived.  The psychiatrist started not just recommending but effectively pushing "antidepressant" drugs as an answer to the point where I was seriously wondering just how deep into the pockets of their pharmaceutical rep he was.  It took me several times of stating "No drugs!" before he finally got the hint that "No" means "No" even when I say it.  Do people suffer from chemical imbalances in their brain leading to problems like Depression, et al?  Yes.  But throwing drugs at it forever rather than finding and actually fixing the problem isn't the right answer (see aforementioned transmission analogy) unless you think that profits regardless of how those profits are achieved are always the right answer, that is.  In this case, I certainly believe that if anyone there has a drug problem it's the psychiatrist for so stubbornly refusing to consider other options.  One of the many issues I have with my ever starting any kind of antidepressant regimen is the fact that there's still so much trial-and-error (with far too many errors) and hit-or-miss (again, too much miss) in prescribing the drugs in the first place.  I know this from the various friends who are currently on various antidepressants and who have been for years, a couple of whom I've personally known for a decade and more.  I will not be a guinea pig for something that they should be able to accurately prescribe if medicine once again mattered more than profits.
        Drugs are nothing more than chemical crutches and like physical crutches should be used only when absolutely necessary.  Crutches are meant to be temporary, not permanent “solutions”.  The big problem I'm describing is a multifaceted reliance on drugs to solve every problem rather than trying to actually repair or cure the medical ailments, and getting active in the political ones.

by Rev. J.T. Smith


Conundrum (RE: Zoos, Et Al) by Rev. J.T. Smith

It’s almost spring time, when the weather starts to warm up and school field trips and families, especially those with children, travel to zoos, aquariums, and related parks; and I'm experiencing a conundrum in regards to those destinations.

I think most all of us have been to a zoo or game preserve (e.g. the Trexler Nature Preserve, formerly the Trexler-Lehigh County Game Preserve, in Schnecksville, PA) at one time or another in our lives, particularly when we were children.  We love seeing, hearing, and smelling the animals there.  It brings to reality the animals we've seen pictures of and heard about via various media.  For anyone who's become a veterinarian, biologist, zoologist, or has specialized further in regards to any animal life, visits to the zoo will have played a large role in triggering those interests.  Likewise, going to the aquarium (e.g. Baltimore Aquarium, Camden Aquarium, et al) would have similar effects when it comes to sea life.  Even circuses and theme parks like SeaWorld also allow us to be closer to animals we would otherwise never likely have the opportunity to experience.  Zoos and aquariums have also played a role in helping some species avoid extinction through captive mating programs and protecting them from poachers.

The dark side of zoos, aquariums, etc., is that in order to populate them we're taking living, sentient beings from their natural habitats, separating them from their families (quite often at exceptionally young ages and pretty much violently regardless of their age), and imprisoning them in artificial enclosures.  And in the best of circumstances, the staffs do everything in their power, barring releasing the animals, to make certain that they're well cared for and treated with dignity.  Unfortunately quite often the animals are held in enclosures that are far too small and otherwise overcrowded considering how spread apart individuals in a population typically live; and in the case of circuses like Ringling Brothers and theme parks like SeaWorld, the animals are treated horrifically out of sight of the general public in order to get them to perform for us.  (For a better understanding, you can watch the movie "Blackfish", or read Beneath The Surface by John Hargrove or the recent articles in the news over the last couple of years.)  That's the dark side, the sad stark reality that we must face and accept.

I do my best to try to see both sides of things.  I realize that zoos, aquariums, et al., are far from perfect on oh so many levels.  And while we can learn about wildlife, whether aquatic, avian, or terrestrial, from books, or the internet, or by watching various documentaries, the other stark reality is that there is no substitute for being able to see an elephant in person and experience firsthand just how large, powerful, and magnificent they are.  Even through the bars of a zoo, we can experience the big cats in person (and in safety to us at least) through more of our senses than a book or a screen could ever allow.

The vast majority of us simply don't have the resources to be able to travel the world and experience the animals in their native habitats.  Monetary wealth shouldn't be the only deciding factor on who gets to experience wildlife in person when both finances and transportation can be limiting factors to the intelligent when intelligence itself isn't borne of money.  And while books, movies, and the internet can still inspire us, nothing can instill the awe and wonder of seeing these magnificent creatures live the way, even vastly imperfectly, that zoos and aquariums allow.

There needs to be a better way. My conundrum is that finding it currently eludes me.

by Rev. J.T. Smith