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Drug Addiction as Deviance or Mental Illness?

October 3, 2012

Drug Addiction as Deviance or Mental Illness

In the New York Times today, October 3, 2012, there was an articled titled “Addicted to Painkillers, Unready for Help”. To summarize, in short, this article is written from a medical doctor’s perspective on a case study of a man who is addicted to oxycodone. His doctor to relieve the pain associated with rheumatoid arthritis prescribed this man, J., oxycodone. Slowly but surely, J. began to become dependant on this painkiller, and his tolerance began to rise. This led him to seek multiple prescriptions of oxycodone, as well as illegally obtaining it from a co-worker. Eventually, his addiction had advanced so much that he was overdosing on his medication (which inevitably requires hospitalization), and causing extreme pain for his wife. Thus, this leads to the question of how to treat a patient like J. Is he a junky and a criminal that deserves to be in prison? Or is he mentally ill, and desperately in need of inpatient care?

I find it difficult to answer this question myself. The DSM defines drug addiction as a mental illness, but I find it difficult to categorize it as such because one brings it upon themselves. This is obviously a great controversy in the United States because even states themselves cannot agree upon a correct way to “deal” with drug addicts. As stated in the article, “The requirements for involuntary substance treatment vary widely across the nation, from posing a serious danger to oneself, others or property, to impaired decision-making or even something as vague as losing control of oneself”. Ultimately, the Supreme Court left it up to each individual state to decide whether they want to treat or incarcerate addicts. In my opinion, if the Supreme Court ruled one way or another in this case, addicts and their families could at least have peace of mind when it comes to treating them.

Another moral issue that this article brings up that we have not yet discussed in class is the issue of doctors prescribing painkillers, and failing to regulate the use or abuse of them by their patients. Obviously in this article, the doctor that had initially prescribed the oxycodone to J, failed to keep in contact with him, which lead to him being able to fall deeper and deeper in to addiction. But is it really the doctor’s moral duty to make sure their patients are not abusing drugs? In my opinion, yes. I feel as though doctors take an oath to do no harm, and that entails making sure that their patients have an extremely difficult time doing harm to themselves. In this case, I feel as though if J’s doctors, pharmacists, and medical insurance company had better communication, they would have figured out earlier that J was “double dipping”. Of course, that is easier said than done.

All in all, if I were able to be completely ethical in a situation like this, I would say that in J’s case, he deserves to be treated in a hospital and not imprisoned. I believe this because he only became addicted after he received a valid prescription for his painkiller. If he initially set out to score something on the street, without having sought medical attention first, then I believe he should be imprisoned.

Kimberly Anderson

Link: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/10/01/addicted-to-painkillers-but-not-ready-for-help/?ref=health

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 4, 2012 2:33 am

    I find this topic to be very interesting. The question of weather or not substance abuse is a mental disorder is a tough one to answer, and in my opinion it depends on the situation. Many people are more susceptible to drug addiction because of genetic or environmental factors, and some can break the addiction easier than others. Because of these factors not everyone who is addicted to a drug has a mental illness. The boy who does crack for a year then quits doesn’t have a mental illness, he just went through a phase. The boy who’s entire family is addicted, whose life is ruled by the drug, and can never break his drug addiction no matter how hard he attempts to, in my eyes has a disease. It’s hard to know where the man on painkillers stands with these factors. Perhaps he is in a gray area? Another question is weather functional substance abusers should be considered ill, or only dysfunctional ones?

    Lauren Berg

  2. October 5, 2012 3:06 am

    Reblogged this on sociologyofmentalhealth and commented:
    This was a tough call because evidently the man was involved in illegal activity and for that could go to prison however this wouldn’t do anything for the individual. He should be able to receive treatment because drugs are what polluted his head and gave him a mental illness. It would make more sense to help this person out because just punishing a person who is in need of help is wrong. The right thing to do is notice the man needs help and give him treatment. The United States is known for giving second chances and there is no reason a man who was transformed by drugs doesn’t deserve a second chance.
    Kristian Alonso

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