It is extremely disheartening as an addictions therapist to read articles on social media and mainstream media regarding society’s view of “drug addicts.” It seems that there are many people that are okay with giving up on that population. Every day there are articles covering The Great Opioid Epidemic, where topics discussed include the associated death toll, the negative effects of addiction on society, the financial cost of addiction… I recently read an article where someone was quoted basically asking how many times a first responder should keep reviving an addict who has repeat instances of overdosing, as if a person’s life wasn’t worth the cost of more than one or two doses of Narcan. My heart suddenly became very heavy, and I just shook my head.
I’m guessing that those people that express such feelings have personally never had their lives be touched by addiction. I’m glad for them in that regard (and more than a bit jealous of them). Addiction can do awful things to the family members of an addict, and the family as a whole. The addict asserts, “It’s my body; I’m not hurting anyone else.” How very wrong the addict is who says that. I know from personal experience. I grew up with family members that suffered, and continue to suffer, from addiction. Watching the things it did to those family members, to me personally, and to our family was the reason I’ve never used any drugs and don’t drink alcohol. It was also the reason I became an addictions therapist. How many times have those addicted family members asked me, “What is so special about YOU? Why are YOU not as screwed up as WE are? Why does YOUR life get to be so good?” I laugh a little sarcastically to myself and think, “So GOOD? Yep. FABULOUS! All of the instances that cops were called to the house, the embarrassment when “things would happen” when I had friends over, the drunken fistfights between those family members when they had too much to drink–that ended with a hospital visit, the constant worry over one of them being arrested or dead, the walking in on one of them slitting his wrist and not being able to wake anyone to help because they were all passed out…Yep! I had it SO good.” My answer was, and is, always the same, “If I watch you touch a hot stove and burn the sh*t out of your hand, I don’t need to touch it to see if it’s hot.” I believe the saying goes “A wise man learns from his mistakes, a still wiser man learns from the mistakes of others.”
Every addict is someone’s brother, son, sister, daughter, husband, wife… someone’s loved one. People are NOT disposable just because they have a problem that affects others and is difficult to solve. People should NEVER be disposable. First responders should revive someone who has overdosed as many times as it takes. Maybe such people are asking the wrong question. Maybe they SHOULD be asking, “How can we get these people the help they need after we revive them, to prevent a recurrence of overdose?” Maybe the first responders should keep a list of referral places to send these overdosed people. Maybe states should have a look at the possibility of mandated treatment if someone overdoses more than once or twice. Clearly that person is a danger to himself/herself if it continues to happen. Just as clear is the fact that treatment is less expensive than housing the addict as a prisoner, when he/she starts committing crimes to fund his/her habit and gets caught.
I am hopeful that with all of the attention on The Great Opioid Epidemic, a truly open discussion will begin, and the great minds in the field of addiction will begin to educate society on what opioid addiction is, what Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) is and what it isn’t (namely “just replacing one drug with another”), why it has the highest success among the treatments for Opioid Use Disorder, and how to get people who need treatment into treatment. I am also hopeful that MAT will begin to be more widely covered by insurances, if for no other reason than that people who are functional members of society can work and thus pay their insurance premiums. (Hey, however I have to pitch it, I will; whatever works!)
Each one of us has a purpose. We each also have our own crosses to bear. God put us here for a reason, each of us with different talents and different problems so that we can use those talents help each other. None of us, regardless of the difficulty of our problems, is disposable. When we begin to view even SOME people as disposable, we ALL become in danger of eventually becoming disposable as well.