“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.

Resources

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.

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.