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.