“Just let them die”

Why that won’t solve the problem:

Yes, they will die. But then they will keep dying and we will need a bigger morgue. Every addict is someone’s child and quite possibly someone’s mother, father, sister, brother, and best friend.

The public, politicians and even first responders are divided on the debate of whether or not people who are experiencing an overdose should receive a lifesaving effort with Narcan and whatever resources are necessary.

For those of you who believe that we should just let them die and the problem will resolve itself, let me explain why that won’t work.

No one chose to become an opiate addict, or any type of addict for that matter. They all made the same decision you did at some point in your life to experiment with alcohol or marijuana as a teenager. Maybe they broke a bone on the job as an adult and were prescribed opiate pain medication. Whatever the reason, 99% of society has a consumed mood-altering chemical substance at some point. Around 13% of these individuals have the genetics or the perfect storm of environmental factors that has altered the physiology of their brain to make it hyper-sensitive to dopamine. All drugs act on dopamine in some way. However, not all brains are hyper-sensitive to it. For those that are, they will become addicted. Plain and simple. But, the addiction doesn’t happen all at once. The individual isn’t going to take a pill and say “Whoa, I’m a drug addict! I didn’t know that! I better not take any more or I’ll end up like those addict dying on the street from heroin overdoses!”

Instead, the addiction progress begins and will progress ever so stealthy, like a lion stalking a wildebeest. By the time the addiction takes the person down, there’s no hindsight that can stop the process. The only things that can help are treatment and sober support.

The point I’m trying to make is that there will always be addiction. And the next generation isn’t going to decide to not become addicts because they see the death toll. It just doesn’t work that way. It’s not so simple. If it was, people would stop being addicts now! Every opioid addict knows that the next overdose could be fatal. And even though they don’t want to die, they have lost the power of choice. Just like a wildebeest in the grips of a lion. It will take intervention of some sort to stop the process.

Recovery is the responsibility of the addict. But it takes intervention, education, treatment and sober support to assist the individual in getting their head back to a place where they can understand not only that it is their responsibility, but that they have the strength to do it. Hopelessness is a plague that has consumed many people suffering from addiction. They feel that their friends, family and society has given up on them. So what hope is there? We need to uphold the message of hope and lose the stigma. Because the next generation is still going to provide society with addiction. I guarantee it. Let’s progress and handle it more productively this time.

Let’s take Portugal for example. In the 20th century they saw increasing rate of heroin addiction and throughout the 1980’s attempted to combat this problem with harsh punitive sentences and societal backlash. The rates continued to increase and by 1999 about 1% of the population were addicted to heroin; the highest rate in the European Union.

In 2001, Portugal decriminalized drug use. Instead, if someone is caught with drugs and is deemed that they are not a dealer, they will be given an option for treatment. Many feared that this decriminalization would open the floodgates to drug tourism, increasing crime and disease. This was not the case. HIV/AIDS cases have plummeted in Portugal since 2001 and the addiction rate has been steadily decreasing. Overdose deaths have significantly decreased as well.

A society that treats addiction like a mental health problem that needs treatment will find a solution. Any individual who believes that just letting them die will fix the issue, is actually a part of the problem.


Aleem, Z. (Feb. 11th, 2015). 14 Years After Portugal Decriminalized All Drugs Here’s What Happened. Mic Daily. Retrieved from: Feb. 11, 2015https://mic.com/articles/110344/14-years-after-portugal-decriminalized-all-drugs-here-s-what-s-happening#.vXf9ueLkv

What a drug addict can do for society

I’m speaking from my experience. I’ve seen it countless times. An addict, that stereotype drug addict on the street, a prostitute, a thief, someone who commits crimes, and has used every person that ever came near them.

The person that I just described has tremendous potential. Inside them lies experience, strength and will power that if ignited, if realized, would re-birth a human being that’s stronger, smarter, and more intuitive than before they were consumed by their addiction. Someone who has gained an understanding of a life that is pure suffering and how an innocent child or an adolescent can slip into the addictive process long before they are aware they are becoming a drug addict/alcoholic.

No addict “chose that lifestyle.” Addiction doesn’t happen overnight. It is a cunning process that starts within the brain and slowly becomes stronger over years or decades. As the symptoms of the addiction start to become apparent to everyone else in the addict’s life, their family and friends might start to express concern. The addict “knows” that they can’t possibly be a drug addict/alcoholic because society has told them that these are “weak” and “bad” people. Hence, every time another addictive tendency surfaces the addict constructs one more defense mechanism to deny or justify it.

Defense mechanisms are the foundation of addictive thinking. Anyone who has ever known someone in active addiction can tell you that it is amazing and scary how a drug addict thinks. This is because, slowly over time they have added these defense mechanisms to their cognitive schema, or their thought process. Little by little these defense mechanisms are added, because the addiction is taking over, but the addict knows they are not the stereotype low-life that society has said that drug addicts are. They are real people living among family and friends; holding jobs, and raising kids.

The stigma of addiction (of any type) keeps people in the dark for too long. In time the addiction progresses (it always progresses) and the power of choice is lost before the addict is aware that they are an addict (I’m referring to all types of addiction, including alcoholism).

Now let’s fast forward to recovery. Because there’s no other option, besides death. They say institutions are an option, but that’s only temporary and let’s be honest, drugs seem to make their way into institutions pretty easily. Many institutions also offer recovery programs within them as well. So those of you who think that drug addicts are going to live off the system for the rest of their lives are really inaccurate. With the potency of the drugs on the streets of Dayton and Cincinnati Ohio there are only two options: death or recovery. Housing these individuals in prison and jail without treatment options is the only way they can prolong the time that they are “living on taxpayer dollars.” Getting people into recovery sooner will get them back into society sooner.

And now we have the individual I mentioned earlier, with tremendous insight, awareness, and passion that is fueled by a gratitude for life and the little things that the average person will never have. Addicts in recovery have a perspective on daily life that is so positive and hopeful, because they know how to be happy with the things that the “average Joe” takes for granted. These are people who want to give back, help other struggling addicts and reintegrate into their families, communities and into society.

These are the individuals who can REALLY fight this opioid epidemic as well as all other forms of addiction. These are the ones who can help to education the community, the younger generations, and politicians on what helps, what works, and what does not.

It’s time that we throw away all of our old beliefs about addiction and get ready to start making progress. The old way doesn’t work. Stigmatizing addicts, medication assisted treatment and constricting them from receiving treatment, punishing them more and letting them die are all old ways of thinking that are fueling the problem. How do I know this? Because it’s getting worse. Despite the overwhelming number of deaths in Ohio, the epidemic is getting worse, so we are doing something wrong as a society. If you think this doesn’t apply to you, you’re wrong. Addiction permeates all socioeconomic classes, every cultural background and every corner of society. And whether you like it or not, your tax payer dollars are funding the penal system. So let’s get people out of the system, into treatment and give them the opportunity to live healthy productive lives as meaningful members of society.

How to Live in Recovery: Journey to Self-Actualization

There are so many articles and discussions about getting started in recovery and facing the challenges of early recovery, but not as much for those who have a year or more behind them.
For those of you who have found a path in recovery, you’ve probably been told to “give it back” by helping other addicts who have less clean time or no clean time. For me, this has been a wonderful piece to my journey, but there’s more to it than that.
Recovery is not abstinence. If you’re reading this, you’re probably aware of that. So what is it? It’s filling the void. Ok…So what’s lacking? I sure don’t know. It’s different for everyone. Sure, we have a lot of similarities in our stories as well as our needs, vales etc., but the details of your journey to self-actualization are for you to figure out.
In active addiction, how did we try to stop the pain or fill the void? Mask it, suppress it and try to change the world to suit our needs. The one thing that we needed to do to start the healing process was look inward. Scary stuff. But we got there.
Whatever it is you’re recovering from, it’s important to do regular check-ins with yourself to make sure that you are living a lifestyle conducive to recovery. These self-inventories can help us to avoid using our “old behaviors” in new ways.
Not drinking and drugging is an obvious part of recovery, but we also have to continue to grow as a person and watch out for out old ways of dealing with problems. This starts from within. How do you perceive the problem? Always be willing to look at your part. If I see a road raging driving on the highway and find myself affected by it, I still have to look at my part. Maybe I will need to move to a different lane to keep the passengers in my car safe. Getting angry and trying to break-check this a-hole isn’t going to solve anything. It’s going to fuel both of our anger and provide for an even more dangerous and possibly life threatening situation on the road. Maybe I’m only responsible for 1% of the problem, but that’s the only part I have control over. We cannot control other people and when we start attempting to fix the rest of the world we lose sight of what brought us to our path of recovery in the first place. Looking inward.
I’m on my journey to self-actualization and I have some ways to go, but I’m confident that I’m on the right path. I want to share with you some of the things that have helped me to realize my path.
1. Meditation
Taking time each day to appreciate what I have, pray, and to think about what little steps I can take to improve myself. Spending some time each day reminding myself to let go of the need to control and to have some faith. I usually meditate on my gratitudes in the morning and do a self-inventory at night. This allows me to stay focused on the now and to experience the life I’m in at the moment. I don’t want to spend too much time in the past or the future.

2. Learning
Whenever I have a little extra time, I like to read, watch YouTube videos, or listen to other people’s stories. I love to learn about different ideas and theories even those that I don’t agree with. It helps me to keep an open and active mind. When I have the opportunity I try new things just for the sake of having a new experience, whether it’s trying a new food, hiking a new trail, or visit a place I’ve never been (it doesn’t have to be something extravagant it can be a historical site in the city or a scenic park). The goal is to always work on expanding my mind and appreciating the beauty around me. If I’m not careful, I can start to absorb the negativity from the news, Facebook or bad drivers (to name a few sources). I can easily fall back in the trap of distorted thinking if I don’t keep feeding my mind positive things.

3. Holistic and natural healing
This has been an important piece of my puzzle. I spent so many years damaging my body physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually that the healing process for me, needs to encompass all aspects of the self. I have been to many medical doctors in my recovery and have been back and forth with expensive treatments, conflicting diagnoses, and lots of co-pays. All of this, only to say that I don’t feel too much better. Many of the Band-Aid treatments I’ve received only mask the symptoms and many times cause additional problems. I have found that the most effective health care I’ve received has been from acupuncturists and naturalists. These holistic treatments have cured pain and autoimmune problems that the medical doctors couldn’t figure out, or could only lessen with harmful medications. Loving and appreciating my body is an essential part of my journey. This means taking care of it from the inside out with the purest methods I can fine. To my surprise, this doesn’t cost an arm and a leg either. On the flip side, I have saved a lot of time and money. I use western doctors and medications sparingly to avoid further damage to my body whenever possible.

4. Journaling
Keeping the thoughts, ideas and feelings flowing is important for me. This helps me to avoid suppressing them which will eventually lead to unexplainable pain that tempts me to mask it in harmful ways. There’s no rhyme or reason to the way I journal. If something needs to come out, then it needs to come out. Talking to my besties also helps me to get out that “stuff” that starts to cloud my mind. Whether it’s a resentment, sadness, or frustration, I have a natural tendency to ignore it or dwell on it. Before I know it, I feel stuck in my recovery.
That’s my list of tools. Filling my void with positive thoughts and meaningful experiences keeps me on the right path. I’m not certain of where my path is leading me, but I know that I’m taking steps towards self-actualization each day.

You love an addict. Now what?

If you have a loved one suffering substance abuse or another form of addiction there are some key things to always remember.

1)      You did NOT do anything to make them an addict

2)      You can NOT do anything to make them not an addict

3)      You can enable their addiction, and this is harmful

4)      Recovery is possible for even the most “hopeless” addict

5)      You need to recover too

Individuals suffering from addiction come in any form. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard a family member of an addict say “I can’t believe this happened in our family” or something similar. If you have a loved one who’s addicted to something detrimental to their life, you might feel that you are somehow to blame. Someone in the denial stage of addiction may also try hard to make you feel as if you are to blame, because they are not ready to look at themselves.

Before I go on, I want you to realize that addiction progresses in stages, and so does recovery. If you’re loved on is denying that they have a problem, or denying that their problem is their responsibility, then they are in what some experts call the “precontemplation” stage. This is normal.

No matter what mistakes you feel that you have made as a parent, friend, sibling, caregiver or a romantic partner, you did not do anything that made them an addict. There are countless factors that cause addiction and you are not one of them.

You cannot do anything to make them not an addict. Again, they might want you to think that you have to act a certain way to fix them (and they might truly believe it), but the underlying causes of their addiction whether it’s genetics, PTSD, complex trauma or something else are guiding the progression of their addiction.

Unfortunately, forcing your loved one to go to rehab is almost always ineffective. Even if they complete the program. Someone who’s addicted to substances will not actually recover until they are ready. No matter how much treatment they receive.

Important side note: abstinence is not recovery

So what can you do? You don’t have any control over their addiction, you can only control how you react to it. Giving them money so they don’t have to be in withdrawal, bailing them out of jail, lying to their boss about why they didn’t show up to work, etc. are all examples of ways that you can enable their addiction. You can suggest that they try a 12 step meeting or go to treatment, but what usually gets people to realize that they have a problem are their consequences.

People in withdrawal from opioids or opiates (heroin, fentanyl, OxyContin, Percocet, etc.) will feel like they are dying. But they are not. And they will manipulate you any possible way they can to get money from you so that they can get more of their drug to ease the suffering. This is not because they want to hurt you. It’s because they are in a pain that far exceeds what the average individual has to go through and also because their addictive thinking has taken over their thought process and they have become someone else.

Important side note: With recovery, they will find themselves again, realize what they did, feel terrible about it, and become the person you once knew (maybe even better!)

If he or she is in withdrawal from benzodiazepines or alcohol, it IS life threatening. If they are having seizures, hallucinations, talking in gibberish, shaking or not responding, you need to call an ambulance and get them to the hospital ASAP.

You might be thinking “Well she’s my spouse and we need her income, so I call her boss because I don’t want her to lose her job. That would hurt all of us even more!”

Unfortunately, addiction to substances is a life or death situation. That might not be evident yet, depending on how far their disease has progressed, but it will progress and treatment is necessary. But they have to realize that. It will take a lot longer for the to realize that if you keep cushioning their fall. And you’re right, it’s not fair to you. But if this is the situation at hand, it has to be dealt with sooner or later. Trying to pretend it doesn’t exist will only work for so long. Loved ones of addicts can be in denial too.

No matter how hopeless the situation may seem; maybe they’ve been through treatment 20 times, there is still hope. But you need to recover too. You’ve been hurt, you’ve been burned. You have resentments, anger, pain, questions, confusion, sadness…that’s ok. It’s normal.

I strongly recommend that you find an Al-anon meeting. Al-anon is a free, confidential support group for the family members. It’s not the same as alcoholics anonymous (AA) or narcotics anonymous (NA). Those meetings are geared towards the addict in recovery. Al-anon is a small group of family members who have been through the same struggles as you. The same pain, fear, shame, guilt, and had the same questions as you. The vast majority of family members that I talk to want nothing to do with Al-anon. But the ones that actually give it a chance find a great sense of comfort, relief and understanding in those rooms.

“I can’t believe how many people understand exactly what I’m going through!”

This is the most common reaction I hear after a family member (or friend) goes to an al-anon meeting. You will find support, no one will judge you, and you will have a lot of your questions answered. You will also gain a sense of acceptance when you can’t find the answer.

I personally recommend the book Addiction and Recovery For Dummies for family members of addicts because it really seems to be geared towards helping people to understand addiction who really don’t have previous experience with it in their family or in their life in any way. Basically, it provides a foundation of understanding of what you’re dealing with and what the options are. The main things I want you convey are that there are options, you’re not alone, and there’s hope.

Why isn’t anyone talking about those who made it?

Here in the greater Dayton area of Ohio, there’s a news story daily about the opioid epidemic. Occasionally, there will be a story from an organization attempting to combat the problem, but for the most part, it’s all about death and the cost. Mostly negative stories about the rising rate of overdose deaths, the cost of Narcan and the police commissioner talking about how he thinks Narcan is a waste of taxpayer money. He mentions scenarios where first responders are forced to administer Narcan to an individual who they just saved a week prior. Facebook pages from locals are rampant with comments carrying an overtone of “just let them die. They chose this life. Why should I have to pay for it?”

Why isn’t anyone talking about those who made it? Working as a substance abuse counselor in South East Ohio for the last several years has proven to me that the majority (at least 90%) of clients in treatment centers have been administered Narcan. Some of them several times before they found their way into treatment.

For the first time, I’m seeing an overwhelming number of clients who are self-referred to treatment. In other words, no one is making them go to treatment. No child protective services workers, no probation officers, they just want their lives back. I’m also seeing an increasing number of mandated clients who are grateful to be mandated to treatment; grateful to have a probation officer holding them accountable during the first, and by far the most difficult, phase of recovery.

The majority of individuals suffering from addiction are not criminals at heart. They are good people, with good values. They love their children and their families. They work, they provide and are productive members of society. I’m not saying that they all had perfect lives before their addiction took over, but they were not the stereotypical “criminals” and “low-life’s” that society stigmatizes them to be. If able to achieve recovery from chemical dependency, the majority of these individuals will become productive members of society.

With the potency of the drugs on the streets today, there are few options for those in active addiction. They may be lucky enough to receive Narcan when they overdosed, but it’s Russian roulette. There are only so many times that one will be able to pull that trigger and survive. Addicts in this area will find recovery or die. There are those who will end up in jail or prison, but that’s only temporary and drugs find their way into these institutions regardless.

It’s time to start talking about recovery and to place the focus on the success stories. I have deep gratitude for the first responders who have saved countless individuals from overdose deaths. I definitely don’t want to shed a negative light on these heroes. I know they are burned out too. The amount of death that we are dealing with in this area is not normal. When the morgue is renting out freezer space from other morgues and renting freezer trucks to accommodate all the dead bodies, it’s easy to see why the police and coroner are feeling overwhelmed and fed up.  

This is everyone’s problem whether you like it or not. “Letting them die” doesn’t solve the problem. There seems to be an overwhelming number of people who believe that if Narcan wasn’t administered that all the addicts would die and the problem would be over. And the next generation will see the death toll and decide not to be drug addicts. This is a fairy tale. No one chooses to be an addict and no one ever believes it will happen to them. But when it does, they are enslaved and the power of choice is lost.

With stigma keeping them in the shadows, the addiction will progress until they become another statistic or they find recovery. Even if they do find recovery, it won’t be before losing everything.

If society would let these individuals out of the shadows, less people would have to hit “rock bottom” before finding recovery. And less people would die. More parents would get their children back. More children would get their parents back. And society would have a productive member that would have otherwise been another cold body piled up in the freezer.

Stigma Kills

                Addiction is one of the most wide-spread and deadly problems known to man. The opioid epidemic is now being compared to the Black Death which was responsible for killing a third of Europeans between 1346 and 1353. We have come to a grave reality: this is everyone’s problem. Addiction permeates every socioeconomic class, cultural background, and generation. NBC Nightly News ran a story on Montgomery County Ohio calling it “America’s most opioid addicted county.” The coroner for Montgomery County Ohio stated that Montgomery county is estimating around 2000 overdose deaths this year alone.

With People dropping like flies all around me, I can’t help but wonder why it’s so hard to believe that addicts have lost their power to choose?

Blaming is easy and provides grounds for an individual to justify silencing that little voice inside them that’s telling them to feel empathy and compassion for those suffering from addiction. Caring is taxing. Not caring is just easier.

Patting myself on the back for not being a addict and complaining about the toll addicts have on society is a large part of the problem. Here’s why:

Over 99.99% of Americans try mood altering substances whether its alcohol, marijuana, pain medication, anxiety medication, etc. Not matter what the purpose of ingesting one of these substances, around 13% of the population will become addicted.

We all made the same decision to try a drink or a joint at some point, but 42.5 million of us had a completely different reaction than the others. One that ignited the addictive process.

No one is aware that they have the perfect storm of factors that will cause expression of the addictive process within their brain when they pick up for the first time (“pick-up” is an expression used to describe using any mood altering substance for recreational purposes). Addiction is a slow and subtle process. When the first signs of chemical dependency first rear their ugly heads, no one reacts to it by saying “wow, I’m clearly becoming addicted and I need to get help before this gets out of control.”


When I was growing up I learned that “druggies” and “junkies” were criminals and “bad people.” I was told that people are losers and the chose this path of crime…So now if I’m starting to notice signs of addiction as a teenager, a young adult or an older adult, my reaction isn’t to get help, because I’m a good person! I can’t be an addict! I’m educated, I have a family, I came from a good home, society said that addicts are bad people and I know I’m not a bad person. So I CAN’T be an addict. I just need to get my (drinking, use of anxiety medication, or use of pain medication, etc.) under control.

This is how the complex system of denial and other cognitive distortion (the lifeblood of addiction) starts.

Addiction will progress through stages. It can take years or even decades before someone morphs from a loving mother, a family man, a college student into that stereotypical image of an addict: a prostitute on the street; a homeless man on the corner begging for money…

No one wanted this life. No one chose to be an addict. Once the addiction is ignited in the brain, it will progress. Societal stigma of the “weak will” and “poor character” of addicts will prevent millions of people from realizing they have a problem before the consequences are so severe that they have only four choices left: jails, institutions, death, or recovery.

Should someone be fortunate enough to make it through the doors of a treatment program, they will soon find that once they get through the withdrawal, now they’re faced with intense and debilitating shame from having harmed so many people over the course of their addiction. This shame stems from the foundation of good morals and values within the individual; knowing and caring about right from wrong. Once separated from drugs, most recovering addicts will refer to their action in active addiction as “insane.” Before addiction is just that. It is insanity. No one in active addiction or early recovery is in their right mind.

What would you do if you were insane?

What if we lifted the judgement we place on those suffering from addiction? Does that relinquish their responsibility to get help? Of course not. I so commonly hear people debating about addiction with one argument seemingly always being “they need to take responsibility for their actions, and if we forgive them and offer empathy, that’s just going to give them an excuse to continue to be an addict and do these destructive things” (or something to that affect). Decriminalizing addiction, calling addiction a disease, offering empathy and compassion does NOT absolve the individual from taking responsibility for their own recovery.

I have anxiety. No one is making me feel ashamed for having anxiety. But it’s still my responsibility to take care of my ongoing treatment and betterment of myself to combat my anxiety so that it doesn’t take over my life again. “But you’re not out committing crimes because you have anxiety.” True. But, I’m in my right mind, thanks to those who offered me compassion, provided treatment and lead me to empowerment.