When I was a kid and you didn’t pay attention in class, you were given a detention. Maybe your parents were called and then you couldn’t watch television or go outside. Usually, this solved the problem. Nowadays if we find a 2nd grader who can’t sit still in class, we medicate them. What can result is a chemically-dependent society and a normalized trend of addiction. Legally.
“With the American culture in general, it has become that if there is something wrong, almost automatically, we want to medicate a person, even if the person is only 10 or 11 years old,” says Victor Loo, current Director of the Recovery Services at Asian Referral Counseling Service (ACRS). “Ritalin is a common prescription for ADHD. I think physicians are quite open to saying, ‘this is what your kid needs,’ rather than suggesting other alternatives.”
Ritalin falls under the category of a stimulant, one of the three most common forms of prescription drugs abuse, according to the National Drug Intelligence Center. The other two include depressants, such as barbiturates or tranquilizers, and opiates, such as OxyContin and Percocet.
But despite his opinion on the changing climate of medical practice, Loo reports that abuse of prescription drugs is not high amongst the APA community, accounting for less than 10 percent of his cases. Instead, the ACRS is seeing an increase of illegal drug abuse, such as marijuana or cocaine, and alcohol, he says, is still the highest reported substance abused in the community.
“I think prescription drug abuse is more mainstream in the Caucasian population,” says Loo. “However, there is the possibility of underreporting because Asian culture tends to keep a lot of things very hidden,” he continues.
After speaking with a former abuser, Loo’s suspicions appear to be correct.
“When I was on it, I would say 80 percent of the users were Asian Americans,” says a former two-year opiate addict. “I think it’s more in white culture because they tend to show it more than Asian people.”
Both also described a similar path in which the habit develops.
First the addiction begins with a legitimate injury, a physical, mental or emotional problem that permits access to the drug. Due to the drugs’ chemical potency and immediate effectiveness, they easily become a coping mechanism for patients.
Second is the availability. Many patients can easily acquire a prescription or find pills by searching the family medicine cabinet. A black market has also emerged to cut out expensive visits to the doctor, and according to the former user, “you can even order them online.”
Third is the social response. Stigma attached to prescription drug usage is minimal in comparison to other illegal substances, despite their chemical similarities. According to Loo, “in [APA] culture, anything that is given by a doctor or an authority figure is perceived as good.” Furthermore, finding other addicts and creating a social circle of enablers normalizes the habit, or “makes it okay.”
But like all addictive substances, the fleeting moment of escapism is only temporary, and the consequences eventually catch up. Oftentimes, a life-changing event shakes users out of the habit, or if they’re lucky, they see it happen elsewhere before they go through it themselves.
“It was really sad when I saw people that couldn’t buy things for their kids,” explains the former user. “If they had ten dollars, they’d rather buy two pills than buy lunch for their kids. I told myself that I didn’t want to get to that stage.”
And while prescription drug abuse cases aren’t frequent at ACRS, Loo says the organization is well prepared in providing step-by-step counseling, as well as many alternative treatments in place of prescription drugs, from acupuncture and meditation courses, to rehabilitation through art and dance.
The approach of ACRS’ Recovery Service Department is symbolic of where medical practice needs to go, or more fittingly, where it needs to return. Natural solutions like rehabilitation through conventional activities avoid the possibilities of addiction, but the difficulty remains in reducing dependence on artificial chemicals, and coping with illness and injury without them.