How Did Wall Street’s Affluent Get Addicted to Opiates?

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

suit-and-tie-616427-mLast week, addiction specialist Dr. Dana Jane Saltzman wrote in The Epoch Times about a surprising group of addicted individuals whom Phoenix House reported four years ago: young men who work in New York’s Financial District. Our 2010 blog on this topic was wary of a Wall Street Journal article that celebrated the financial district’s having “sobered up…in more ways than one.” Sobered up? That same article made it clear that cocaine use alone had decreased among Wall Streeters, while both marijuana and prescription abuse were on the rise.

Given this trend, I was unsurprised to read Dr. Saltzman’s apt piece, in which she discusses her many patients in bespoke suits who start their days with “coffee, a bagel, and two 30 milligram tablets of Oxycodone.” Cocaine may have abated within the financier group, but it’s clear that the addiction problem on Wall Street is far from being solved. So why opioids?

First, the opioid epidemic we’re experiencing as a nation does disproportionately affect people who have easy access to doctors. But the people with painkiller problems are not only our nation’s richest; rather, they are just as often blue-collar workers who have become dependent on these pills to get through their day and make their jobs more bearable. And with 99 percent of the world’s hydrocodone consumed within the United States, it’s clear we need increased physician training and improved prescribing practices to curtail this crisis.

Second, popping painkillers may not initially impair job performance. So these young professionals turn to a giant bottle of Vicodin for a boost at work, and by the time they realize it’s making them fail in every other way (socially, physically, etc.) they’re already addicted. Once you’re hooked on opiates, your life revolves around getting your pills. You wake every day and feel sick—until you take your first pill of the day. In a situation like that, the last thing you want to do is lose the job that allows you to afford these pills in the first place. This is why so many people – on Wall Street and elsewhere – go thousands of dollars into debt in order to fuel their addiction. Either that, or they transition to heroin for a cheaper high.

Still, the question isn’t “Why is opioid addiction so common on Wall Street?” It’s “Why is opiate addiction happening EVERYWHERE in this country?” Because what we’re seeing on Wall Street is what we’re seeing among teenagers in Orange County, among veterans and active military personnel, among middle-aged women with chronic pain, among coal miners in West Virginia…the list goes on. As we know, addiction is a disease that can affect anyone, and the stunningly widespread reach of the opioid crisis is today’s proof. The only way we can stem this epidemic is by advocating for better prescribing practices alongside increased education, prevention, and treatment—and we hope you’ll join us in the fight.

By Howard P. Meitiner
President and CEO
Phoenix House

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1 Comment

  • Philip Appel

    Mr. Meitiner points to a widespread drug problem and the need for more education, prevention and treatment. Raised, but not answered, is the question of why opioid addiction is so widespread these days. Would knowing why affect how we go about approaching the issue? Saying we need more is a tough rallying cry to sell!