[Noozhawk’s note: This article is part of Day 8 in Noozhawk’s 12-day, six-week special investigative series, Prescription for Abuse. Related links are below.]
Name: Neil Rocklin Ph.D.
Occupation: Clinical psychologist/psychology lecturer
“I ask for a show of hands for how many people have had their wisdom teeth pulled out,” he said.
He sees a full room of raised hands.
“I ask how many people had a prescription for Vicodin,’” he continued.
The hands stay up.
“Then I ask how many people took some of the medication,” he said. Some hands stay up.
“How many took all of their medication?”
All but two hands go down.
Rocklin uses this social experiment to fuel an important question: “Why would a physician prescribe the medication knowing that 95 percent of the people don’t need it?”
It’s an issue that is plaguing the pharmaceutical industry and affecting the way Americans deal with and use prescription medications.
Rocklin experienced firsthand a major component to prescription drug addiction: convenience thanks to overprescribing. After open-heart surgery to replace a valve, the pharmacy couldn’t wait to send him his refills.
“They want to sell me more medication than I need,” he said.
“It’s all in terms of profit incentive. That’s one of the most disturbing elements in any discussion about health care.”
At Rocklin’s Woodland Hills practice, where he works mainly with elementary school-aged children, substance abuse sometimes surfaces as an issue with prescription drugs.
“I have seen, over the course of my practice, children ages 12, 13, 14, who during the course of treatment for a different kind of referral, have been identified as substance abusive,” he said.
“Addiction is what we call a disorder of the brain,” he explained about substance abuse. “It’s chronic, so the disorder begins typically in childhood.”
From his experiences, Rocklin suggests that addiction may start at a much earlier age than previously thought. That is why he proposes early education at an even more intense, scientific level.
“We need to get into schools and teach kids at a very early age about neurotransmitters,” he said, “and about how you have to be sensitive and value your body and the way in which your body functions.”
Rocklin stresses even more the necessity to teach children the importance of maintaining a healthy body and mind without drugs.
“Not everybody is going to feel good all the time, and there are going to be periods of your life when you are going to feel unhappy,” he said. “You’re going to have to figure out how you’re going to deal with that.”
Rocklin suggests options like exercise and a healthy diet instead of abusing different substances.
One aspect of addiction that Rocklin wants people to understand is its classification as a true mental disorder, which affects the brain and cannot be controlled.
“We generally think of addiction as a disorder that somebody has control over,” he said. “We have these oversimplified, over-expected ideas that you should just get over it and stop doing it. But it just doesn’t work that way.”
He proposes that treatment programs for both addicts and those arrested for drug possession are the most effective way to counteract substance abuse.
“Deferring people into treatment programs will help by providing a better outcome as well as being less expensive,” he said.
Rocklin says Americans must be willing to fund such programs, regardless of whether they affect their lives. Only then, he says, can society make headway against addiction.
“There is this conflict between what the public expects and wants and what the public is willing to pay for through their tax dollars,” he explained.
“It’s a huge issue because we tend to not want to provide the kind of funding for people who are sick,” he said. “But if we don’t accept that in these situations there are people who are substance abusive and we pretend it doesn’t exist, then we won’t make any progress.”