I initially pursued Biology as my primary major in Undergrad because I was very involved in my dad’s health. I wanted to be a cardiothoracic surgeon, because anyone in the medical industry was a superhero in my eyes. I interned at a local intense burn unit, took EMT classes, and drove my dad to his doctor’s appointments. He had a total of five open heart surgeries and a heart transplant in 2001. The local paramedics knew us by name, and ‘near death experiences’ were a joke. Death, in fact, became our family’s best friend—because it never took my dad, just relentlessly teased him with heart failure.
My mom made sure my older sister and I knew our roles when he had a heart attack: One of us would stay outside the house to guide the ambulance, and the other would stay next to my dad who was usually laying on the floor. It sounds intense, but this was our normality.
Although the intensity never came from the roaring paramedics outside our home or my dad clenching his chest and shouting our names as he gasped for air, it did come from the amount of medication he took daily. By the end of his life he was taking over thirty pills which were spread throughout the day.
It was the burning question my mom didn’t know how to answer:
Aren’t some of these opioids?
Why was my dad taking opioids?
Why were they disguised with complicated names like Hydrocodone, Codaine, or Demoral?
One time, he took more Hydrocodone than was prescribed, and called the paramedics on himself. He wasn’t having any physical health issues, but his reasoning was because the drugs were messing with his brain, they were giving him ideas of killing my mom, my sister, and me. He was scared of his own mind, and this was his cry for help. The paramedics told him he was in healthy condition and left.
Another time, the hospital gave him Codeine. A terrible mistake because he had a hostile reaction, so they replaced Codeine with Demoral.
When he was on Demoral, he asked the doctors to up the dosage because he saw Marilyn Monroe and wanted to stay with her.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 21-29% of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them, and 8-12% develop an opioid use disorder.
23.6 million Californians were prescribed opioids in 2016. The result? 2,031 deaths because of an overdose. 4.6 million of those cases and 407 opioid-related overdose deaths occurred in Los Angeles County. Two-thirds of drug overdose deaths that killed 70,237 Americans in 2017 were from prescription or illegal opioid drugs.
Public health crises are supposed to come in one form and one form only: Natural occurring diseases. I suppose tens and thousands of dead bodies are not enough for government and medical boards to acknowledge that deaths caused by the byproduct of medical care is murder.
We need practical measures to prevent opioid dependence led by federal policymakers, and the opioid crisis needs to be classified as a public health emergency. Why aren’t we leaving surgery rooms with non-addictive pain management approaches? Why are opioid manufactures paying U.S. doctors huge sums of money for prescribing their brand?
Death finally placed its hands on my father almost three years ago and all that really remains is my father’s legacy, and this prescription opioid epidemic that is taking the lives of over 130 people every day.