Red Hot Chili Peppers' bassist Flea has a message for the medical community, which he says is complicit in America's opioid crisis. In a new essay for Time, the 55-year-old details his own struggles with drug addiction, recovery and later being prescribed painkillers by his doctor.
Flea writes that he started doing drugs at 11, back when he was a self-described "Hollywood street urchin running feral." He goes on to say that he "proceeded to snort, shoot, pop, smoke, drop and dragon chase my way through my teens and 20s." At 30, with a young daughter and after having lost three close friends to drugs, the performer got sober.
But he admits that, "Once you've opened the door to drug abuse, it's always there, seducing you to come on in and get your head right."
In his words, "Temptation is a bitch." What's more, "It's hard to beat temptation when the person supplying you has a fancy job and credentials and it's usually bad advice not to trust them."
That is what happened a few years ago when, following a snowboarding accident and subsequent surgery, Flea's doctor prescribed the painkiller Oxycontin, a drug whose active ingredient, oxycodone, is often referred to as a "cousin of heroin." After a month of taking one pill a day (despite the label on the bottle allowing for up to four pills a day), the recovering addict writes that he was "high as hell." He adds that, "It not only quelled my physical pain, but all my emotions as well."
Fortunately for Flea, he was able to stop using the drug. But he knows that "perfectly sane people become addicted to these medications and end up dead." (Oxycodone was also linked to the deaths of musicians Prince and Tom Petty.) Flea calls on the government and medical community to do something about America's opioid crisis.
This comes just a couple of weeks after the makers of Oxycontin announced that it would cut its sales force and stop promoting the drug to doctors, "a problematic marketing strategy that pushed addictive pain pills and contributed to the nation's opioid crisis, critics say," according to the Washington Post.
When Oxycontin was introduced in 1996, drugmaker Purdue Pharma claimed the product was "abuse resistant," wrote Mike Mariani in a 2015 piece for Pacific Standard. In response to a 2007 lawsuit, Purdue and its top executives "pleaded guilty to charges that it misled doctors and patients about the addictive properties."
But all of that has done little to slow the progression of America's opioid crisis. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that nearly 80 percent of Americans using heroin started misusing prescription opioids first. And from 1999 to 2016, more than 200,000 people have died in the U.S. from overdoses related to prescription opioids, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"There is obviously a time when painkillers should be prescribed, but medical professions should be more discerning," writes Flea in his essay. "It's also equally obvious that part of any opioid prescription should include follow-up, monitoring and a clear solution and path to rehabilitation if anyone becomes addicted." Amen.
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What Do YOU Think?
Were you surprised that a doctor would so readily prescribe painkillers to a recovering drug addict? Do you think our government and the medical community are doing enough to tackle the opioid crisis? Let us know in the comments below.