When we try to understand the opioid crisis, we need first to think about capitalism. It might be the best economic system yet designed, but capitalism doesn’t care much about human progress. Like all economic systems, capitalism cares mainly about production and consumption. Capitalism is about making things and selling what is made.

In making opioids, compassionate physicians trained to minister to the medical needs of patients, and pharmaceutical companies organized to invent and deliver chemicals that would serve humanity, prepared and then administered a potion that, so far, has killed hundreds of thousands and destroyed the lives of millions more. How this happened is as deep and complex a story as humanity has ever created.

Maybe it will be the opioid crisis that finally teaches us that it is not chemicals that either create or cure humanity’s ills, it is stories. Stories, and the meaning of stories, empowered the so-called greatest generation to endure the travails of World War II, and for their fathers and mothers to endure World War I, and, today, it is the power of stories that supports a hyperconnected adolescent in tolerating the necessary pain of a root canal procedure. It is stories, not fairy tales or myths or even verses set to music, that allow us not to merely transcend the vicissitudes of daily life but rather to inhabit the precious moments of our lives with the sensitivity and scrupulous attention to detail that they require. As others have rightly asserted, a superhero shoot ’em up does not a story make. Distraction, sure; story, no. Distraction is essentially an involuntary neurochemical stimulus-response spasm, and that is why distractions can be so addictive. Stories, conversely, vibrate in our cells and precipitate possibilities yet unknown. Distraction is destruction, whereas stories store significance. Without stories, we are toast.

Stories are stored in the nuance that is a side-effect of self-identification. When, after great struggle, we finally discover who we are, there a story resides. As humans wrestle with suffering and with the high price of self-knowledge and self-preservation, secrets that until then lay dormant in the global unconscious are broadcast to all humanity. Suddenly, as if a luminescent wave has passed over the globe, everyone knows what everyone knows, and we are all joined together in the oneness of shared awareness. It is the reality of the story, of the journey, that bonds everyone to everyone else in the perfect lucid understanding that we are all the same. Yes, we all know what it is like to suffer, and we all know what it is like to make mistakes in striving to avoid or alleviate suffering. It is the stories of those mistakes, and the wisdom derived from those stories, that is burned into our shared memory and will remain with us every day of our lives.

It will probably take a century for us to fully mine the complex story of the opioid phenomenon. Whatever else that detritus may reveal, it will contain elements of pain and struggle and deep meaning about the paradoxical and complementary nature of misery and bliss. Whatever else, it will be a deeply human story, preserved and told for eons around metaphorical campfires, to faces rapt with interest. We will look back, one day, and shake our heads like elders who have seen something that we hope will never have to happen again – but, we will guess, had to happen for us to learn what we had to learn. Only then will we fully understand the true meaning of the opioid odyssey.

Dr. Murphy’s new book OPIOID ODYSSEY is now available for purchase on Amazon.  Connect through