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One of the common problems that any paranormal investigation group eventually encounters is the delicate issue of prescription medications clients take, but which they are often reluctant to discuss with anyone but family.

Regardless of how forthcoming in their reports clients may be about even the most intimate details—whether a simple “feeling up” by a ghostly hand or a full case history of their sexual abuse—there’s something about a straightforward request for a list of all prescriptions and over-the-counter medications that makes clients balk. This occurs despite the fact that all serious groups agree to confidentiality clauses and even have qualified medical professionals among their team members. This reluctance stymies many an investigation from reaching proper conclusions, and it thwarts our community’s efforts at helping the clients to help themselves.

icon mortar and pestleThis isn’t to say that investigators don’t empathize with the client’s concerns. When a relative stranger asks, “What are you taking?” it’s natural to resist what we have been taught to keep secret. Although Health Management Organizations have made our relationships with doctors something of a transitory affair these days, we still wax sentimental about the doctor-patient relationship being something sacred and undisclosed even to our loved ones. Telling people about the medicines in the cabinet or, worse, in the nightstand drawer where other secrets are vouchsafed has the effect of making even the most secure person feel just a little vulnerable because drug use is a prurient subject.

Furthermore, we live in an age when Medicare Part B can be the only thing standing between bankruptcy and pain management. Our medications have real value, and a full report of what we have in stock is akin to an inventory of what’s in our safe deposit box. It’s understandable for clients to worry just a little that disclosing a list of their medications will tempt investigators to case their home.

Clients also worry that they might be exposed for taking medications “under the counter.” Six million Americans (2.5% of the population) admit to taking prescription drugs for non-medical purposes, and a significant percentage of people, especially among the elderly, admit to using their spouse’s prescription medications without a doctor’s permission. Our culture’s current climate about medical care is partly to blame: many doctors will not resort to drug treatments for conditions they cannot clinically prove, especially if the drugs have a risk of dependency, so patients resort to taking matters into their own hands. Complicating the matter is the stigma of addiction: the drug companies that virtuously offer those over-the-counter, non habit-forming pain relievers are also the same companies pedaling a bewildering assortment of new pharmaceutical panaceas featured in upbeat ads with nonchalant warnings about deadly serious side effects. On the one hand, such drug companies encourage the health “awareness” that leads patients to drug dependency, but on the other hand they cultivate a view of drug dependency as a true moral failure, tacitly equated with street drug addictions. So, we live in fear of being pegged as “drug addicts” because we need medicines that are habit-forming. And, in truth, the moment that we start taking such medicines outside of a doctor’s recommendation, we have crossed over into that gray area between “medicinally dependent” and “drug addicted.” Few clients really want to be judged for that, much less compared to an opioid fiend.

There is yet another, even more sensitive concern that prevents clients from revealing their intake of medicines: credibility. Clients know that medicines come with side effects that directly or indirectly affect their judgment, their mood, their perceptual acuity, their sleep habits, and their psychiatric states. Prescription drug use gives investigators an easy “out” for debunking the paranormal phenomena in their homes. In a substantial percentage of these cases, it’s a straightforward worry about whether or not investigators will believe them and take them seriously if they confess to being on a combination of medicines. However, for another group of clients, it’s sometimes a matter of not wanting to confess to themselves that their drug therapies or unauthorized drug use have contributed to their experiences.

The work of a paranormal investigation group aims to empower clients with information that will help them discover a sense of security in their own homes. (In the vast majority of cases, the clients are never actually at risk from anything, much less from the paranormal activity.) Knowing how one’s own chemical intake can influence the perception of paranormal activity is indispensable to that cause, and the equivocation of these facts when they are requested really does tie the hands of investigators from doing their job. Sadly, the motive can sometimes be intentional among clients who don’t want to know too much in hopes that they won’t have to stop believing they are being haunted. A little self-knowledge can be a grave responsibility to the truth about one’s self.

To be completely fair to the client, I must point out that paranormal investigating community does not have any sort of regulatory oversight to prevent abuses of confidentiality and medical advice. And clients have the right to withhold information that they wish not to divulge. However, because investigators enter into a home solely at a stranger’s request, investigators, too, have a responsibility to themselves to know at least what they are getting into and an obligation to the client to find out as much as possible about the circumstances of the case, so as to conduct a reputable and thorough investigation. Most investigation groups go to great lengths and beyond to protect the privacy of the client, including adopting a number of protocols to keep client info anonymous in the reports. Clients have every right to ask about these protocols before divulging sensitive information, and investigators have every right to deny services if clients refuse to be forthcoming. Somewhere in between these two headstrong stances lies the crux of the matter: trust. Fortunately, most paranormal investigation groups are eager to earn this by voluntarily traveling considerable distances at their own expense. Understandably, when investigators begin to form doubts about a client’s sincerity or veracity, the truth about the case slips ever out of their grasp

If you are a prospective client, you’re urged to discuss, whenever possible, these very issues with any group you enlist for support. You’ll find that investigators will respect this concern as an earnest show of desire for help and will reward such honesty as a welcome vote of confidence in their work. Answering truthfully about your prescriptions may not always be the most comfortable, but it can ultimately lead to a truth that makes you comfortable in your own home—provided, that is, everyone keeps an open mind to the truth.