Prescription Thugs and America’s Problem with Opiates

 In Effects, Prescription Opiates, Statistics

Filmmaker Chris Bell’s documentary “Prescription Thugs” reveals the silent and pervasive nature of prescription drug abuse. After the death of his brother from an opioid overdose, Bell sets out to discover what is so addictive about opiates and how they are so frequently abused. His interviews with various athletes, family members, and individuals with firsthand knowledge of the damage of opiate abuse paint a disturbing picture of the rampant problem that is prescription drug addiction in America.

Bell opens the documentary with a bold characterization. Speaking about the US and its desire to constantly seek more, better, and faster – creating his term “The United States of Addiction.” It seems like an accurate claim – although the US only makes up about 5 percent of the world’s population, we consume 75 percent of the world’s drugs. In 2010, enough prescriptions were written to medicate every American adult every four hours continuously for one month.

Prescription Pills 
The film begins with a loss. Chris Bell’s brother Mike, has just succumbed to an accidental opioid overdose. Bell, attempting to understand his brother’s death and the addiction behind it, interviews his friends and acquaintances. He discovers that many of them have struggled with Mike’s same addiction, taking prescription pills to overcome pain, finding they couldn’t stop.

Their stories are intriguing. For many, it started as a way to feel good while pursuing difficult and injury-ridden athletic careers. Of the people Bell interviews, most did not believe they had a problem until they were well into the throes of addiction.

One star football player tells the story of how far he had fallen: “I’m the golden child,” says Jeff Hatch decisively, “I’m Ivy-League educated, an NFL football player. And I’m a drug addict.”

Talking about Opiate Abuse
Throughout Bell’s interviews, some version of this story is repeated. Contrary to the stereotype of a lazy or flawed person turning to drugs, these men simply sought relief from pain and the furtherance of their careers. Most were unaware of the damage they were doing to their own bodies until an overdose or the death of a loved one made them sit up and take notice.

In one tearful exchange, one interviewee apologizes to Bell for introducing his brother Mike to prescription pills in the first place. He thought he was helping a friend, unaware that this addiction would eventually end Mike’s life.

Throughout the documentary, Bell asks: why are these prescriptions so harmful and addictive? As the documentary points out, opiates are all made from the opium poppy, and opioids are synthetically derived to imitate this chemical structure. Heroin is derived from the same. The idea that prescription opioids are somehow “safer” is an illusion on the chemical level, but many believe it when they begin misusing prescriptions.

Overprescribing opiates
In a surprising twist, Bell himself admits to an opioid addiction halfway through the documentary.  Even in the midst of learning about opioid abuse, he explains, he couldn’t confront his own problem. Bell takes a hiatus from the film to undergo rehab for opiate addiction, driving his message home – no one is immune to opiate addiction, and it’s virtually impossible to overcome alone.

If you or a loved one are discovering that opioid use is a problem, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Contact OTCOA today, and let us help you help yourself.

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Doctor with patient.The Faces of Opiate Addiction
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