More people died last year from drug overdoses than from car accidents or shootings—and of those drug overdoses, 59% were from opioids—both prescription and nonprescription. Politicians, educators and health-care workers all are waving their sabers about the drug crisis, but they’re on the wrong path. 

Governor Chris Christie, in his State of the State address last week, championed mandatory six-month insurance coverage for drug rehab for addicts. Other organizations were petitioning last year for the approval of Narcan, an opioid antidote that prevents drug users from dying of an overdose. It’s like the morning-after pill for drug users—but it doesn’t solve the problem. It just gives the user another chance to get it right or wrong. The drug was approved, and no doubt many lives have been saved. But has it reduced the number of overdoses? Or drug users?

I would posit that the real problem is sociocultural. In the past 60 years—plus or minus a few decades—three major societal shifts have collided creating an environment for disaster—reductionist medicine focused on suppressing an ailment’s specific systems or symptoms with a growing arsenal of new medications…the development of technology created a demand for immediate gratification…and the proliferation of social and media messages obliging people to look and be “perfect.”  (Remember the Enjoli Woman?) We simply can’t handle imperfection in any form any more. Instead we feel the need to have our engines adjusted for optimal performance.

Got a sniffle? Take an antihistamine. Indigestion? Suppress the acid. Headache? Backache? Arthritis? Painkillers will make you feel better. Overweight? Heaven forbid you actually eat less—just take a weight-loss pill. We turn the dials on the body’s natural function in order to optimize performance, all while ignoring the messages that our bodies’ are trying to send us.

Consider this. Painkiller sales of all kinds—including simple aspirin—are up 400% since 1999. Opioid painkillers have nearly tripled since 1991.  Antibiotics are prescribed for ear infections, respiratory ailments and the like. But for many of these ailments, antibiotics have no impact. Yet patients “demand” antibiotics of their doctors…and the doctors often comply.  Got a symptom? Take a pill. Got a fever?  Take something to reduce the fever, instead of letting the body’s immune system burn out the infection.

In 2014, there were 922,200 prescriptions for Ritalin for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. But ADHD didn’t even exist 50 years ago. Now we are giving speed to our children to “cure” it. What makes this even worse is that many of these children actually have auditory-processing issues, not attention issues, that can be healed with assorted drug-free therapies. But it’s far easier to fix it with a pill.

Emotional hardships are handled with antidepressants. Some people have significant chemical imbalances that need medicinal help. But I assure you, that when I had two young children and was working at a stressful job, I didn’t need the antidepressant my doctor offered me.

We have taught two generations of humanity that the solution to their problems can be found at the pharmacy. And we offer them a drug for their every bump and bruise.  I have watched many well-intended hard-working parents prefer to have their children “diagnosed” with a disorder than to consider the possibility that their judgmental or inattentive parenting—along with the sugar and caffeine the kids are consuming—could be contributing to their children’s behavioral issues.

When a young child falls down, we offer him or her Tylenol to ease the pain rather than give him a hug or suggest he brush himself off and move along. Meanwhile, children are watching their parents take statins to lower cholesterol, while they continue to eat cheeseburgers…Xanax to manage their stress and anxiety…and yes, painkillers for just about everything. Adults are role models of the behaviors they are reprimanding their children for. Is it any surprise that children seek to medicate themselves from their stresses and pain? They just do it with the tools they have available to them.

Until we take a deep look at this legalized culture of drug dependency we will continue to chase our tails trying to find a solution to the problem. The drug epidemic didn’t just happen. We have carefully created it.