By Pippa Starr
There is a huge killer that is way bigger than COVID 19 that is happening right now under all of our noses. Chances are you have had it, will get it and/or it is almost certain you have felt the effects of it already.
More people die from it than all the cancers combined.
1.9 million people have died from COVID19.
11.8 million people each year die from this deadly affliction.
The reality is we can fix this, but sadly those who are aware of it won’t.
It’s often like trying to tell a "flat earther" that the earth is in fact a sphere in a debate that has become more about ideology than logic, as many more millions will continue to die.
To understand this affliction a bit more, allow me to share this true story with you that may help you understand the overall picture here a bit better.
A few years ago I shared a home with a work friend. Around an hour before the end of the shift she told me she was going home early because she wasn’t feeling very well. I thought little of it, thinking it was the onset of one of her usual migraine headache episodes which was a regular occurrence.
“Hi I’m home!, are you ok?” I say loudly from the entry as I usually have before and normally receive a mumble reply of “Yup just a headache, I’m in my room”.
However, this night was different.
I repeated the call out again a bit louder, “Hannah are you ok?”.
The only answer I received was the noise of crickets.
I walked up stairs and was greeted with a vision that will haunt me for the rest of my life.
Her body was strewn across the floor in a pool of red. I rushed over to inspect the scene closer. She appeared lifeless, her chest was not rising and falling at all, she didn’t appear to be breathing. I checked her pulse on her neck, her wrist and there was nothing. I placed her into the relax position that I had learned in a first aid course I had just completed a week before. I then checked her mouth and airway which was clear.
Naturally, I called triple zero and began CPR while guided by all the directions from the helpful person on the other end of the phone.
What became apparent very quickly was that the pool of red wasn’t blood, it was a bottle of red that I could now smell. After a few rounds of CPR she seemed to be foaming a little at the mouth but she had no pulse. I kept going with the CPR as I wait for a paramedic to arrive. Her pulse began to come back a little. I count around 20bpm as I work through this somehow calmly with the emergency operator.
I find myself humming to the song "Stayin Alive" to keep the right pace of compression.
“Keep going, your doing well!” were the words of encouragement from the operator.
The paramedic arrived and after I very promptly briefed them they took the reigns and brought her back to life.
“We see this all to often!”, explains the paramedic. “She’s hit the bottle fast and had some pills to go along with it”, the paramedic explains.
Hannah recovered well only to take up an ice habit which saw me abandoning the share house arrangement as I simply couldn’t deal with that either. Clearly she needed expert help to get past this and I was not the person that was able to help her nor accommodate that.
It literally brought home to me the stark reality of just how prevalent drug use is. I was blissfully unaware, sure I have seen drug use before, and have been offered various things many times but as a smoker and an occasional binge drinker, I wasn’t a hard drug user right?
That is denial 101 right there. I along with more than 1 in 5 people in the world struggled with my own vices that I called “vices” because it’s far less confronting to say that than use the word “addiction”.
While I don’t profess to be any expert at all around what addiction is, I now know a lot more than I did a few years ago and from what I have read it appears that even the so called “experts” battle with the term commonly known as “addiction”.
Drug addiction takes around 12 million lives across the planet every year! Governments across the world obviously struggle with it and often even raise taxes from it while it keeps costing more and more lives at a rate of nearly one life lost every 3 seconds.
That’s more than 6x greater than how many lives are lost to the COVID19 pandemic.
It not only cripples economies and destroys lives, it seems to have sadly become a way of life to most of us that we are in denial about as we go on with our day to day lives.
According to the UN drug report from Vienna in June 2019, only 1 in 7 people receive treatment for their addictions.
In Australia we fill our jails with people for drug possession and other drug related charges. If you are of the same mindset that I had only a few years ago you are probably thinking “that’s great, that keeps our streets clean!”.
If that's what you think is true, you would be wrong by a long shot!
It’s a merry go round that snowballs along with each incarceration.
The reality is that 65% of all prisoners in Australian jails have a drug addiction prior to entry and in some cases some prisoners become addicted to drugs in jail as smuggling still happens!
Let’s go back to my experience with Hannah. She was experiencing depression and anxiety. She had a lot to deal with as a transgender women who’s only method of surviving financially, at least through her eyes was via prostitution throughout most of her adult life. Although she had quit making her income from that life in favor for a role in logistics she clearly still battled with her past.
The sad fact is that most people have a unique story from their past that they would rather forget and try not to deal with or find some way to cope with it.
The terrible fact is a lot of people will turn to a drug of choice rather than seek counselling or some sort of viable and sensible mental health treatment.
What is the drug of choice for most people?
MDMA, cocaine, speed, ice, heroin or cigarettes?
Of the 12 million people that die on this planet each year from a drug addiction
11.5 million will die as a result of an addiction to combustible tobacco.
Every seventh death in the world (13%) is the direct result of smoking, a further 2% was the result of secondhand smoke. This means 15%, close to 1 in 6 deaths was the result of combustible tobacco.
That's an easy problem to solve, isn't it?
Why don’t smokers just quit?
We have known about the deadly harms of smoking since the 1950's yet 14% of Australians still smoke.
Besides the fact it is almost the highest addictive concoction,
the costs associated to lost productivity and overall financial burden to the Australian economy from smoking now exceeds $137 Billion per year alone.
Just go cold turkey! Problem solved, right?
I recently watched a TEDTALK featuring public health expert Mark Tyndall who said,
“Starting with abstinence is like asking a diabetic to quit sugar or asking a severe asthmatic to run a marathons or telling a depressed person to just be happy, for any other medical condition we would never begin with the most extreme option.
Why would that strategy work for any addiction?”
He is so right. Quitting smoking is no different. Most who try and Quit cold turkey never succeed and if they do it takes up to around 9 attempts. Other nicotine replacement methods and medications are at best around 7% effective.
Is there another option?
The drug trade may be a bit more complex to solve straight away but the one drug problem that causes more people to die than any other from the smoke rather than the nicotine can be helped better now than ever before.
The harm reduction method known as vaping is far more effective and popular than any other quit method on earth yet has copped more push back in Australia than it should.
2.5% of all Australians have tried this method to quit smoking with many hundreds of thousands successfully stopping smoking for good.
However this solution that can help prevent the greatest cause of death here in Australia is made less accessible to the market than the product that kills over 21000 Australians per year ie. combustible tobacco products.
It beggars belief and poses the question, why?
I think it comes down to one word, “addiction”.
But not in the context that you would think.
Our Australian Government has up until the last 6 years or so done very good job in smoking prevention. However the decline in smoking rates are severely slowing but the rate of revenue from the taxation of cigarettes is increasing.
It’s like our government has become addicted to the forth highest source of revenue raising via tobacco excise and taxes.
Meanwhile addicted taxpayers are trying to get healthier and being told they have to jump through hoops to do so, while the deadliest form of nicotine consumption, smokes, are available everywhere.
Addiction has a start an an end. It is more often than not as a result of a person just trying to cope with life. Sure it’s surrounded in poor choices but when we are at our most vulnerable they will be made, after all we are all human.
Smoking is no different. If we take the attitude of “they are just stupid, why should I suffer because of them, then you are the problem!”
Until we as a society are able to take the time to truly understand the real causes of why people use any sort of addictive drug, we simply won’t solve the overall issue as to why people use them by saying just stop feeling and quit !
If there are safer alternatives like vaping is to smoking as methadone is to heroin then we should see this as the first step to help curb these addictions, while we try and sort out the other real afflictions that people have and work out how to better manage those.
To do otherwise would be immoral, wouldn't it?