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Hul Gil: The "Joy Plant"

My eyes fixated on the word "opioid". It was in the instructions that came with the prescription med for a cough-from-hell. My instinctive reaction was, "Forget that!" It's just a cough, it won't kill me but there is no way I am putting opioid in my body! When I told my doc son I wouldn't take it even once, he asked me some tough questions. That got me reading...

Opioids range from heroin on the illegal end of the spectrum to fentanyl, oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, and morphine on the prescription end. Opioids interact with receptors on nerve cells in our brain and body. They relieve pain and cause euphoria by releasing endorphins. Sadly, the epidemic in the US with opioid addiction is one of staggering proportion. The daily death count from opioid overdose tops 130. In a little over a year between 2016 and 2017, opioid overdose increased by 70% in the Midwest. In 2016, 42k people died of opioid addiction and over 11M people misused opioid prescriptions, 2M of them on their first prescription!

It all started with big pharma convincing providers in the late 1990s that these drugs are not addictive. Fast forward 30 years and opioid addiction is now a full-blown public health crisis in the US and here I was standing in the pharmacy holding a bottle of hydrocodone with instructions to chug it twice a day. Great!

The opioid was going to work on the part of my brain that was making me cough which very was important after several sleepless nights. Assured by Neil and Tarun that a few spoons would not turn my brain to mush, I finally took it. After 30 minutes, I could not keep my eyes open. I managed to drag myself up the stairs and promptly fell into my bed, face first, in street clothes, arms by my side. Twelve hours later I emerged refreshed from hours of quiet sleep uninterrupted by coughing. Woot!

The use of opium for fun and pain relief dates back to 3,400 BC when the Sumerians discovered "hul gil" - the joy plant. After them, the Assyrians and Egyptians were quick to get high and opium cultivation spread along the famed Silk Road all the way from Asia to the Mediterranean. In the early 1800s, morphine was extracted from opium resin and to this day, remains the drug of choice for pain relief. In the mid-1800s it was the root cause of the Opium Wars after the British started smuggling Indian opium into China for Chinese tea.

Note to the Millennials: Britain's elaborate narco-empire long preceded Pablo Escobar's and left tens of millions of Chinese addicts in its wake.

In terms of versatility, there might not be another plant that provides as much euphoria, relief, joy, and misery as does this innocuous-looking poppy plant! Thankfully, my tryst with hydrocodone has ended but millions are caught in its grasp and unable to escape. While our public health agencies create policies and programs to combat this epidemic, as individuals we can help at a grassroots level. Next on Tarun and my agenda is to get CPR trained and, if possible, learn how to use naloxone to combat an overdose. This beast is all around us and knowing how to deal with it is the least we can do.

Here are a couple of links you might find helpful:

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