Flynn: Study Says 38% of Americans Use Opioids. What Explains the Behavior of the Other 62%?

A new study estimates that 38 percent of Americans use prescription opioids in a given year. It doesn’t say whether the 62 percent not getting pills from pharmacists licensed and unlicensed get their drugs from a neighbor’s grow room or a biker’s shed-cum-laboratory.

The Annals of Internal Medicine analysis looked at data from in-person interviews with 51,200 Americans conducted by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health in 2015 and concluded that 92 million Americans used prescription opioids that year. About five percent of respondents report misusing opioids. But since denial and dishonesty rank as common traits of addicts, the real number may be higher. And what self-respecting, self-destructive junkie jonesing for a fix can sit still and submit to a stranger’s (quite possibly a narc’s) interrogation, anyhow?

Still, the study explains a lot. So do narcotics.

Why did your cousin get that neck tattoo? Drugs. How did that brickhouse blonde find herself on the arm of that retromingent homunculus? Drugs. What’s with the gold ’98 Toyota Camry in front of me straddling the double-yellow line? Drugs. When did everybody start confusing comic-book movies for Casablanca? Drugs. Where did the clerk acquire that seven-second delay in responding to customer questions? Drugs. Can you believe I caught my neighbor stealing my air-conditioning unit for $5.94 in scrap copper? Drugs.

Narcotics, in fact, explain most unexplainable behavior and phenomena. If you answer with “drugs” before the question mark comes, you usually get it right. “What’s up with…” “Drugs.” “Why did she…” “Drugs.” UFOs? Ghosts? Shadow People? Bigfoot? Drugs, drugs, drugs, and drugs.

For people who insist drugs are not the answer, drugs arrive increasingly as the answer. For people who believe drugs are the answer, drugs are not the answer. Does one need to inhale, imbibe, ingest or inject to grasp all that?

To loosely paraphrase Richard Nixon, onetime King of the Squares—or least of the Silent Majority—“We Are All Junkies Now.” And for those who aren’t, “We Are All Squares Now.” Alas, we’re not all this or all that, and with more than a third of the country using opioids, the two categories no longer remain mutually exclusive. It’s confusing, more so (less so?) for people currently high.

People my age wanted to become Spicoli when we grew up only to eventually see Mr. Hand in the mirror. Were we wrong to then mock Reefer Madness and Joe Friday and this-is-your-brain-on-drugs commercials, or are we wrong now to experience on-second-thought epiphanies regarding them? Maybe drugs could help us understand—or oversit. You know, the way they get you to hear the sound of colors or taste the deliciousness of rhombuses and other shapes.

Then again, maybe drugs are not the answer.


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