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On September 22, 2010, the Associated Press reported that Dr. Perry G. Fine (Dr. Fine! I know, I know!), a pain medication specialist, testified in an Los Angeles courtroom that Anna Nicole, who died in 2007, was not an addict, though she had been given prescriptions amounting to 1,500 pills (which included various opiates and muscle relaxants) in a single month.
Many see Anna Nicole's case as a personal tragedy—she lost her life and left her infant daughter motherless. That is very, very sad. But abuse of prescription medication is the number one problem keeping my HelpLine ringing off the hook, more than alcohol or drugs, and dwarfing food problems.
Abuse of doctor-prescribed medications has ripple effects that put us all in danger. A prime example is the alarming increase of reckless drug-drivers: people who drive under the influence of prescription meds that impair their vision, reflexes, depth perception, motor coordination and response time—all key elements to safety on the road. "Drug driving is epidemic." Seabrook House's Dr. Friedman explains. "It's a combination of dissociation and sense of entitlement that allows someone who abuses prescription drugs to get behind the wheel. It's a bigger problem than drunk driving, because there's more awareness that you shouldn't drink and drive, while most people think nothing of popping a few doctor-endorsed pills before heading out on the road."
There's another reason drug drivers get a free pass: There is no foolproof way for law enforcement to test for that impairment. There isn't yet the equivalent of a Breathalyzer test for pill poppers. When a drunk driver is pulled over and instructed to "blow, buddy, blow," the numbers don't lie.
The friends and family I meet who want to help their addicted loved ones are stuck in slow-motion (or no-motion) because they believe they lack the knowledge, money and even the "perfect" relationships that allow a frank, honest discussion of the problem. As I mentioned, it takes most families about seven years to admit there's a problem and another two years—nine in total!—before they build up the courage to act.
If you're concerned about someone but you're not sure how serious the problem is, ask yourself: What do I know for sure? What do I suspect? What does my heart confirm?
How often does your friend or family member who struggles with chemical dependency withhold truth, under-report the story or outright lie?
We all have a beautiful built-in Secret Response Unit, which I call "the tug." This tug is that gut feeling that lets you know something is not quite right. The tug is important: Many addicts will die while family and friends decide what to do. Don't ignore the tug. Respond as it grows stronger.
There are all kinds of secrets involved in addiction—many of them harmful—but there is one that is important: You are the one you have been waiting for to help yourself and the ones you love. You have the history, connectedness and love to break through the crisis, the stalemate. From where you stand, you may act with loving and powerful purpose. Respond as a family, as a group. There is strength in numbers. You can breathe life into hope, make change begin and become the miracle you've been praying would arrive.
Brad Lamm is a board-registered interventionist and regular guest on The Dr. Oz Show. He is an author of How to Change Someone You Love and the upcoming How to Help the One You Love: A New Way to Intervene.
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