Drug Addiction vs Drug Dependence

If you know anyone who has been dismissed or refused employment because they are taking an opiod prescription drug, you might be interested in this post. Employers are woefully uneducated concerning the difference between drug addiction and drug dependence.

We all know about drug addicts, or think we do. These people have wrecked their lives in the pursuit of drugs. Drugs are slowly (or not so slowly) killing them. Addicts spend their life in search of another, better high. Their health, families, friends, obligations, futures have been abandoned in search of that driving, all consuming obsession with getting high. If you take their drugs away without tapering them off, their bodies will go into withdrawal; and withdrawal can kill them just as surely as the drugs and getting high eventually would.

What we do not readily see, do not recognize, are the thousands of people out there who are drug dependent. Like the addicted, if they are taken off their medications abruptly they will suffer the same kind of physical effects.

So far as the general public and most employers are concerned, because the physical symptoms of withdrawal are the same, all of these people are addicts. The truth is, they’re not anything alike and they are NOT all addicts in the classic definition of the word.

Let me put this as simply as I can:

A drug addict lives for their drugs. The drug dependent take their prescribed drugs to improve their ability to live a full, healthy life.

Drug addicts take highly addictive opioid drugs. Drugs they have acquired, usually illegally, in order to escape life and reality. They want to get the best high they can. There is nothing positive or constructive in their drug usage. Drug addicts are mentally addicted as well as physically addicted. By that I mean, they mentally & emotionally crave their drug of choice. Usually that results in a constant search for a stronger drug that will give them a longer, hopefully less expensive high that will allow them to escape the realities of life.

Those who are drug dependent take highly addictive opioid drugs. That is where the similarities end. Drug dependent people have been prescribed a certain drug that will enhance the quality of their life. This classification includes not only epileptics and people with neurological disorders, but those under pain management.

My husband is a perfect example of a drug dependent person. At the age of 16 he was ejected from a truck when it crashed. His back, hip, tailbone, collarbone and a few other things were broken. As a result he spent over a year in hospitals, in a cast and was told he would probably never walk again.

This guy is not a quitter and set out to prove the doctors wrong. He walked. Then he got a job as a Canadian parks back country ranger and fire lookout. He went on to ski, ice climb, roller blade, get his open ocean SCUBA certification… in short he went on to live a full life. But it was at a price. All those broken bones and nerve damage meant he was in pain 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. As he got older, he was no longer able to ski or rock climb or work an outdoor job, so he took retraining as a computer instructor, technician and technical writer. He was still in pain 24/7/365.

In 2008 we were working a job in the Phoenix, AZ area and he was quite frankly very depressed and thinking of giving up. His physician sent him to a pain management specialist who, after extensive testing and analyzing, decided to put him on a form of morphine.  We both did a bit of a freak out, but the doctor asked us to trust him and just try it.

Within a week there came a morning when I looked at my husband as he was laying in bed after just waking up and there were tears streaming down his face. I asked what was wrong and his reply was, “Nothing. Absolutely nothing. For the first time in my adult life I just woke up and was able to lay here and listen to the birds and watch the shadows of the branches on the wall and I AM NOT IN PAIN.” He went on to say he always woke up because he was in pain, and on this day there was… nothing.

The form of morphine he is on is an extended release. It feeds into his system slowly over several hours. The dosage is quite small (30 mg). It is just enough to take away the pain and allow him to live a better quality of life. In the eight years since being put on this drug, he has never increased the dosage, in fact, his original prescription was for 60 mg 4 times a day and on his own, with his doctor’s approval, he has cut it back to 30 mg twice a day. He is able to be more physically active, hikes, swims, rides a cruiser motorcycle, splits our firewood himself, builds furniture, does minor repairs around the house, gardens… many of these things he was not able to do prior to getting on the morphine.

Is it dangerous? Yes. Is it physically addictive? Yes. If he doesn’t take it as prescribed (Skips doses) does he experience withdrawal symptoms? Yes.

Here’s the sad part. He is now 65 and since he was around 55 he has worked security, first at a high security power generating plant and more recently since we moved back to the Pacific Northwest, at a large mall. All employers were aware of his prescription. His specialist has certified in writing to his employers that this regimen does not impede his motor skills, mental cognition, equilibrium or ability to function normally. He is safe to drive, operate equipment, etc..

He was required to take periodic drug tests at all his jobs, all of which he passed with no problem. In fact, he has always gotten the highest scores in his performance reviews and has received recognition for at least two instances where he helped save people’s lives in the course of his job.

Does this sound like a drug addict? I think not! But he IS drug dependent. And there are thousands of people like him out there, doing their best to keep on living a decent life, supporting themselves and their families, being physically active and living healthy.

Last year the security company he worked for lost the contract at the mall he was working at. The new company told everyone they would most likely be hired. “Just fill out the application.” My husband did as instructed and was put through the new company’s training program and issued a new uniform. Then he was asked to bring in his medication bottle to be photographed. Then he was informed the job offer was being withdrawn because the drug prescription that he has been taking for 8 years, and performing at the top of the staff where ever he worked, was on their dangerous substances list.

The EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Council) has reviewed my husband’s wrongful dismissal case and has ruled it to be a legitimate case. So we know what it is like to suffer this kind of discrimination. Another man who is on epilepsy control drugs was awarded a cash settlement for discrimination last year after the EEOC determined he was released from his job just because of his prescription.

I guess what I am saying here is: If you, or someone you know, has been discriminated against because of a legally prescribed medication you need to stand up, fight back, don’t just take it. By fighting back we can hopefully make more people aware of this problem and increase the chances employers will make an effort to educate themselves and their human resources departments so the practice can be stopped.














One thought on “Drug Addiction vs Drug Dependence

  1. Pingback: Drug Addiction vs Drug Dependence | It's All in the Perspective!

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