Sunday, May 8, 2016

Prince's death and misconceptions about addiction; celebrity

I hate deconstructing articles like this one that makes a few good points, a few misguided ones, then devolves into the anecdotal. I'll go with this somewhat convoluted statement first:
Chronic pain management requires, in most cases, the taking of strong, often-opiate based medications. ANY patient who takes these drugs on a daily basis will become “physically dependent” in a short time. Physical dependence is not addiction. Diabetics are physically dependent on insulin, and yet we do not call insulin an addictive drug. Without it, diabetics would die. Stopping pain medication that has been used for chronic pain can kill you if it’s done abruptly. Under a doctor’s care, a change in pain medication is handled on a strict schedule in which the body is weaned off one drug in order to either start a new medication, or to determine whether the body is reacting in a different way to the condition causing the pain.
Correct. Physical dependence isn't addiction. Someone taking narcotics for a pain can abuse them, and that's no reason to paint every person dependent on pain medication as an addict, as popular culture is wont to do. The "just like diabetes" trope has got to stop, though. Diabetics take insulin because their bodies don't make it. Someone dependent on narcotics isn't taking it because her body doesn't make enough Percocet. Then there's this:
Into the mix must surely be added the element of race. Prince was a black man. Strong racial disparities in how doctors and other medical staff respond to pain in the emergency room has been documented. For example, a recent study published in one of the most prestigious pediatrics journals studied the treatment of appendicitis, a condition that is often initially suspected after a “chandelier test.” In medical slang, if a doctor places her hand on the pain point in the lower abdomen affected by the pain of an inflamed appendix, the patient will try to jump up into the metaphoric chandelier on the ceiling above their head.
I've written before about racism in medicine, specifically psychiatry, and while it's a huge, often overlooked, problem when it comes to medical care, Prince was not only a black man, he was a famous man. Famous people who have access to the best care often get the worst care. This is something, irrespective of addiction, we've seen over and over. Plus doctors aren't immune to feeling starstruck in the presence of celebrity, seeing "commodity" where they should see "patient." This plays out over and over irrespective of addiction.

One final thing that bothers whenever there's a mass discussion on addiction or dependency is the heavy displays of moralism. While it's good to note the distinction between the two, the line if often drawn too sharply, defining addicts as selfish while someone dependent on meds to manage pain worthy of empathy. Ideally, both should be worthy of empathy.