Call me foolish, but I accept and believe addicts' tales of their drug use and abuse. In retelling their experiences, most offer an outpouring of descriptive language on how their drug of choice feels, and how their drug of choice has ruined them. I trust these accounts, while accepting that some details could be misfiled as first-hand memories can. After all, facts are what news stories are for, right?
Ironically, it's reporters’ recounts, "factual" writings on courtroom trials, drug abuse and outcomes, wherein drugs’ effects become the most skewed, blurring vague qualitative notions with bare-bones science knowledge. It's the news, more than the addicts, that gets it wrong, a problem I've seen again and again. This morning, I saw a recent addiction story touted on Twitter as 'excellent,' so I clicked the link. In the Tampa Bay Times story, “A young woman struggles with oxy addiction and recovery,” oxycodone is earmarked as the 'deadliest drug of all':
PRESCRIPTION DRUG abuse kills 40 Americans every day. That's more than a threefold increase in the last decade, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Oxycodone is the deadliest drug of all. An opiate found in such painkillers as OxyContin and Percocet, it's prescribed after surgeries and car wrecks, and to people in chronic pain.
Others take it just for the high. The drug works by blocking the spinal cord's pain receptors. It doesn't make the pain go away, but prevents people from feeling it, creating a sense of euphoria. Soon, they need to take more to get the same pleasurable escape.
Oxy makes junkies out of people who would never buy from a street dealer. It is everyman's high, heroin in a pill.
Let me repeat it: 'Oxycodone is the deadliest drug of all.' Period. To be so deadly, it's a wonder they let the likes of it out of the lab, let alone prescribe it for pain relief!
When I talk to high schoolers about drugs, a project I've been involved with for several months now, each group almost always inquires after the identity of the 'worst drug.' They, and we, are eager to know which is the be all and end all of drugs -- the line which they can toe, or one they can fear. We can't answer a qualitative drug inquiry any more than we can answer, "which color is the most pleasant?" We can show studies indicating the color by which people feel most calmed, or statistics on which drug aligns with the most hospital admissions, but we can't choose a worst effect.
The problem lies largely in the validity vested in offhand media and journalism claims, such as the one above, especially when a story or briefing comes neatly packaged and ribboned with statistics. And with such a misunderstood and taboo concept as addiction, every attribution and claim counts. I’ve never heard an addict say, “my drug is the worst drug.” They know there isn't such a thing. Such throwaway language stirs fear among those who may be medically prescribed oxycodone and creates a never-ending dark tunnel for those who may already be abusing the stuff. Assigning this attribution to anything is a terribly misleading form of poor reporting. Why is this drug so deadly? Under what instances and context? Here, apparently, 'deadly' is oxycodone's mere existence.
According to dictionary.com:
? ?/?d?dli/ Show Spelled [ded-lee] Show IPA adjective, -li·er, -li·est, adverb
1. causing or tending to cause death; fatal; lethal: a deadly poison.
2. aiming to kill or destroy; implacable: a deadly enemy.
3. like death: a deadly pallor.
4. excruciatingly boring: The dinner party was absolutely deadly.
5. excessive; inordinate: deadly haste.
And from that, I form my definition of oxycodone:
An excruciatingly boring drug, which aims to kill and tends to cause death.
So what do you think? Is it time to update the DEA description?