Drugs are bad. You shouldn’t do drugs.
That was the mantra I heard every other day in school as a kid. Others my age heard it too. There were entire assemblies about drugs at least twice a year. There were regular PSA’s after some of my favorite kids shows. Every health and PE class, it seemed, took time out of their schedule to talk about the dangers of drugs.
For the most part, I listened to these message and took them seriously to some extent. However, I could never truly buy in. I’ve mentioned before how certain anti-drug programs I went through in school sent mixed messages. These days, I’ve come to see those programs and most of those anti-drug efforts to be either a waste of time, misguided, or outright deceitful.
I’ll go so far as to say that the drug war is a complete and utter failure and should be ended right now.
I’m not trying to make a political statement. I’m just trying to put my attitude towards drugs and the drug war in context. A lot factors went into this current overview. However, there was one particular experience that really re-shaped how I saw this issue. It wasn’t something I experienced in school or some life-changing PSA. It was actually a result of dental surgery.
That, in and of itself, is saying a lot because, as I’ve noted before, I despise going to the dentist.
A big part of that aversion to going has to do with some of my less-than-stellar dental health over the years. I’m not just talking about having a cavity or two. Most people deal with that. I’ve actually had a number of major dental procedures over the years. I’ve had fillings in my molars, gum grafts for my lower lip, and a whitening procedure that made my teeth hurt for days on end.
In short, I haven’t had many pleasant experiences at the dentist. In fact, most of my major medical procedures thus far have been of the oral health variety.
However, it was when I had my wisdom teeth removed that really changed my outlook on drugs. It also happened to be the most significant medical procedure I had done at that point. It marked the first procedure that required general anesthesia and recovery process. Naturally, I was nervous, but it had to be done.
For a lot of people, getting wisdom teeth removed is entirely necessary. I was among those who had to get it done as early as possible. The longer I waited, the more it would damage my teeth, my mouth, and my overall well-being. Those were my dentist’s exact words.
The experience, itself, was fairly standard. Even if I was nervous, I knew it had to be done. My mother even took time off work to take me because she knew I would be out of it for a while. However, I don’t think she knew just how much the drugs used in the procedure would effect me.
Again, this was my first major surgery and my first encounter with the powerful drugs used in said surgery. I had little experience and no tolerance, whatsoever. Naturally, I was going to react. I just didn’t know how colorful my reaction would be.
It went like this.
I sat down in a dental chair, the nurse put something over my nose, and then told me she was delivering some nitrous oxide.
I distinctly remember her putting this tiny rubber mask over my nose. I don’t remember anything three seconds after that.
The next thing I knew, it was over. I woke up, my mouth was full of gauze, and the dentist said we were done. He might have said something more, but I honestly don’t remember because I was laughing so had.
This is when I learned why nitrous oxide was also known as laughing gas. I definitely got the laughing part down.
However, I wasn’t juts laughing. I was light-headed, loopy, and just giggling like the happiest guy in the world. I don’t remember a whole lot about what I did or said, but I felt so good, despite my mouth being bloodied and sore. I’m also pretty sure I told the nurse I loved her and I might have even proposed to her. I don’t know. I’m genuinely worried that I made that nurse uncomfortable.
Also, remember that my mother is there. She has never seen me this doped up before. She had hard time not laughing. If she’s reading this right now, she might start laughing at the memory because I really was that out of it. I was so drugged up that my mother actually got my dad on the phone so he could hear me. I don’t remember what I said, but I’m pretty sure he laughed too.
Eventually, the effects did wear off. When they did, my mouth hurt. It het a lot. It was at that point when drugs stopped being funny and I realized something important.
Sometimes, you really do need drugs in order to get through something.
For me, it was serious dental surgery.
For others, it might be something else and it doesn’t always have to with medical procedures.
On top of that, these drugs work. Seriously, I do not know how I could’ve possibly endured getting my wisdom teeth removed without anesthesia. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have laughed nearly as much or flirted with the nurse.
Beyond the actual procedure, I was also prescribed some prescription strength pain killers to help with the pain afterwards. I won’t say what type of pills the were. I’ll just confirm that they were a form of opioids. Yes, they were those kinds of opioids.
I’ll also confirm that those pills worked. They were very effective at making my jaw hurt less as I recovered from the procedure. Sometimes, they worked a little too well. That was why I was generally very reluctant to take them. However, they did get the job done. Were it not for those pills, my recovery from that surgery would’ve been a lot more painful.
That’s really what it all came back to, pain and comfort. These drugs were necessary for me. They also made me feel really good while I was enduring something very distressing. That put a very different context around drugs, the drug war, and why people do drugs. Suddenly, all those anti-drug messages I got from school seemed woefully shallow.
Yes, drugs can be very dangerous and harmful. The number of people who die from overdoses is proof enough of that. However, people don’t just take drugs to overdose from them. There’s generally another reason behind it and that reason doesn’t always revolve around getting high.
While that does happen, it’s not nearly as damaging as many of those anti-drug messages claim. My experience with dental surgery gave me a taste of how pleasant it could be. I wouldn’t blame anyone at all for wanting to pursue that feeling, even if doing so came with serious risks.
More than anything else, my dental surgery experience complicated the whole issue of drugs, drug abuse, and why we wage war on drugs. The feelings I experienced, especially with the benefit of hindsight, convinced me that waging a war on drugs just isn’t winnable. These drugs work too well and people generally like to feel good. Like it or not, that’s exactly what these drugs do.
As time goes on, I’m also convinced that the drug war and the overly simplistic “drugs are bad” message is a gross oversimplification, as well as a misguided crusade. Why people do drugs varies, but let’s not avoid the truth. These drugs have potent effects and so long as people desire these effects, there will be those who seek drugs and abuse them.
To those who have only a limited understanding of drugs and drug abuse, I hope this experience helps change your perspective a bit.
Also, to that nurse who was there after I had my dental surgery, I sincerely apologize if I said anything inappropriate. It turns out nitrous oxide just has that effect on me.