The Transylvania Times -

A Difficult, Uncertain Road


November 16, 2017

The facts are fairly straightforward. Illicit drugs are easy to procure and prescription drugs are even easier. The opiate crisis is nationwide with its devastating effects being felt in urban, suburban and rural areas. The number of Americans who die from drug abuse now exceeds those killed in car accidents and is projected to only increase.

So what is the solution?

We have tried mass incarceration, but that is not the answer. We have been incarcerating far more people than other industrialized countries, yet our drug addiction and crime situations are worse. However, there is a role for incarceration. Those who manufacture drugs and sell them purely to make a profit, to knowingly enrich themselves at the expense of other people’s health, are criminals and they need to pay a severe penalty for their actions. This includes those who sell illegal drugs and those who sell or distribute prescription medications to the wrong people.

But there are also many addicts who commit crimes just to feed their habit and to incarcerate them does not break their habit. Imprisonment without treatment just makes them better criminals.

Treatment programs seem to be a viable option, but many of them are not successful long term. Abstinence is the best goal, but only about 15 percent of addicts reach abstinence. Those are not every encouraging statistics.

Medically assisted recovery allows people to resume something of a normal life, to have and keep a job and maintain relationships. But the drugs used in this form of recovery still damage the central nervous system and the longer they are used, the more damage that is done.

Counseling and community support are crucial to recovery. The addiction can be as much mental as it is physical. As Dr. Dale Nash said at a recent meeting, the drug itself has become the addict’s “best friend,” and leaving that “best friend” forever is psychologically daunting. Counseling is necessary to make that transition from viewing the drug as a “best friend” to a destructive enemy.

Drug abuse is the result of people feeling pain, be it physical, mental or emotional. The causes of pain are numerous; there are thousands of reasons people suffer from physical pain. But even with those events there can be psychological scars when one vividly recalls those events (PTSD) or questions why he or she is naturally less fortunate than others. And there are people facing mental and emotional trauma, which often is triggered by sexual or domestic abuse or some other incident that makes a person feel less than human. Counseling is required to help addicts understand themselves and the cause of that pain. If they can learn to deal with the cause of that pain without medication, then the latter becomes superfluous.

Community support is essential. It may be trite but the lyrics “we all need somebody to lean on” is a universal truth. No one can go it alone for an extended period of time, particularly people who have multiple problems. We all need some affirmation. Community support is particularly crucial to those who have been incarcerated and then freed. If there is no community support – no work, no housing, no food, no relations with people who are not drug users ­– then they will revert to the same environment in which they became an addict.

Community support is an ambiguous concept. Without well-defined structures in place, it is difficult for a recovering addict to know where to go to receive the myriad forms of assistance he or she may need. There is no ombudsman for community support.

As with any problem, prevention is the best answer. Statistics show that if people can refrain from consuming any addictive product before their mid-20s, the chances of them becoming addicted later in life drop significantly.

But prevention is easier said than done. Our culture is awash in drugs. Their usage is promoted on TV and the movies. Pills are offered for every ailment. One need only look at the increasing use of Ritalin in America’s schools as example of early legal drug use.

The drug epidemic in America must be addressed. We need to realize what we’ve tried in the past has not worked. We need to try new ways to treat those addicted and to seek other solutions for our problems besides drugs. But we also need to realize this epidemic is a multi-faceted monster and the road to resolution will be difficult and uncertain.


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