In a WIRED article, “The Pain Was Unbearable. So Why Did Doctors Turn Her Away?” 8/11/2021 author Maia Szalavitz writes,
“A growing number of researchers believe that NarxCare and other screening tools like it are profoundly flawed. According to one study, 20 percent of the patients who are most likely to be flagged as doctor shoppers have cancer, which often requires seeing multiple specialists.
“Many of the official red flags that increase a person’s risk scores are simply attributes of the most vulnerable and medically complex patients, sometimes causing those groups to be denied opioid pain treatment –The AI that generates NarxCare’s Overdose Risk Score is, to many critics, even more unsettling…”
“NarxCare’s home page, for instance, describes how its algorithm trawls patient medical records for diagnoses of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, treating these as ‘variables that could impact risk assessment.’
“In turn, academics have published hundreds of pages about NarxCare, exploring how such use of diagnostic records could have a disparate impact on women (who are more likely to suffer trauma from abuse) and how its purported use of criminal justice data could skew against racial minorities (who are more likely to have been arrested).”
In order to have any kind of life, suffering cannot be avoided. Some people are more resilient than others and find healthy ways to cope with unavoidable suffering, humor being one of the best. And for some, suffering, especially over long periods, is unbearable without some pharmaceutical relief.
Thinking back to Charlie Chaplin’s closing speech in The Great Dictator, one is particularly struck by these lines:
“In this world, there is room for everyone. And the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone. The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way. Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical; our cleverness is hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery, we need humanity. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent, and all will be lost.”
It is not simply specific suffering that bedevils us in our individual lives, but existential angst is driven by a dozen different demons: the drug problem, the War on People with Drugs, climate change, the ever-increasing gulf between conservatives and liberals, hostility towards non-heterosexual humans, increasing censorship of books, economic woes, environmental disasters both natural and man-made, the struggle between oil producers and alternative energy sources (wind, solar, hydroelectric, nuclear), the ever-growing mountains of nonrecyclable plastic and other wastes that are fouling our oceans, lakes and streams, automation in the forms of robots/AI replacing humans at work, and social media driving a further wedge between different elements of society.
Chaplin’s words are as true then as they are now–arguably more so. So why give in to and deal with your emotions when you can smooth them away with a soothing balm of Gilead? Is it any wonder that even the best of us, the most resilient, sometimes turn to psycho-chemical relief, whether it be a glass of wine, a joint, a handful of mushrooms, or whatever your choice is–legal or illegal? And might not there be therapeutic benefits attached–not mere escapism?
These are not rhetorical questions. Lives hang in the balance on their answers. Recent experiments with psilocybin, microdose LSD, and ketamine have shown promising results in the treatment of psychiatric disorders ranging from depression to schizophrenia and PTSD. Several state legislatures are seriously considering legalizing the possession of personal amounts of hallucinogens. At last, the words of Terence McKenna–that entheogens can provide a “reset” button for the human brain–are being taken seriously. We know this much for sure: Prohibition doesn’t work. Education does. Prison doesn’t work. Recovery programs do. Guess which ones are funded the most and which are the least. You get three guesses, and the first two don’t count.
What is ultimately needed is to give life purpose, direction, and meaning. Addressing the societal problems listed above–and helping others learn how to do the same–is an excellent start. Until and unless people find a will to purpose and a will to meaning, they will keep escaping from their pain with psychoactive drugs. And well-meaning agencies–and some not well-meaning–will keep hammering at that nail. All the prohibitions and death sentences won’t stop the flow of pharmacological panaceas. And to ignore or refuse to see that truth is the ultimate shuck and jive that will have us rearranging deck chairs on the Hindenburg.
The planet is on Red Alert. This is not a drill. I repeat, this is not a drill. All hands, report to your stations.