169% more overdose deaths vs. car crashes
63,632 Americans died from substance-related overdoses in 2016, (not including an additional approximately 88,000 alcohol related deaths).
Within the same time frame, 37,461 people were killed in crashes. That is 169% more overdose deaths between the two! Now consider how much money the USA has pumped into lowering traffic deaths over the decades. I am not even talking about the agencies that enforce traffic laws, just ones studying how and why people die in car crashes. Yet we now face a much more deadly issue and we seem to think we can just shame, legislate, arrest, convict, and drug test our way to a better society.
In the current environment in our country, people with substance use problems are often labeled by the other two-thirds as dirty, stupid, dysfunctional, diseased, low class, untrustworthy, unemployable & criminal. Which one of you reading this would like to be the first one in line to stand up and say “I am an addict?”
People do not want to be addicted
This is one of our major problems. I know from personal experience and observation people DO NOT WANT TO BE ADDICTED. So how does the label of addict get attached? It’s based on the things they do and say once they are far into the fog of the substance use, and have found themselves in “survival mode”. To an addict, not having the substance they are craving “feels” like life or death. People who are addicted often due to societal stigmas will meet or exceed those negative titles, but this is not WHO they really are.
A lot of the addicts and alcoholics I have met in my 30+ years of contact with them are some of the smartest, most creative, driven, people I have ever met. They care for themselves, their loved ones and many of those around them deeply. Hell, part of the reason I am sitting here typing this right now is that a man that barely knew me recognized what it’s not simple to just put a substance down and “grow up”. He took the time to talk to others and tell them not to give up on me, and some of them listened. He has passed away but I am profoundly stunned and appreciative of what he did. You see, he had been an alcoholic for decades, but that is not WHO he was.
These people are being thrown away in our society and we have just barely scratched the surface on understanding what make them this way. Again I have never read about, or spoken to someone that their life’s goal was to become stuck with a substance. I had used other drugs when I was younger. I drank my first beer and smoked weed for the first time when I was young. I played with it until it got boring, and never had any problem even going a day without it.
3 Red Pills
My first memory of a substance that made my head turn was back in the 80’s, I had caught some stomach bug in South America and after I got home the doctors were trying to figure out what was wrong with me. The Doctor gave my mom a prescription for me containing 3 red pills. On that first day, I took one of those red pills. I swear I have never felt so good in my entire life! To this day I am not sure what the pill was but I never slept so well and felt so good the next day. There were several times after that, when I wasn’t feeling so good I would think about how there were still 2 pills left.
I was about 10 at the time, so I had no concept of what was really going on, but looking back now it sounds pretty familiar to my first bottle of pain pills. In all likelihood that was my first step on the road towards addiction.
Why, when a doctor has given me a medicine would I even consider the negative side of what may happen? It’s a doctor, it’s a pill, from a real company, monitored by the FDA… I am good. Little did I know where that would take me.
If I ask for help…
I knew I had a problem but by then I had a life, a good wife, great step kids, a house, the job I wanted. I was successful, I had friends and I was headed nowhere but up. My thinking at the time was “if I ask for help, the label ADDICT, is going to get slapped on me along with all of the negative assumptions that go with it.” Was I going to give up everything? At that time, no way. I just kept believing the same crap assumptions that I was afraid of getting tarred and feathered with. I decided that I just need to read a bit more, learn a bit more, try a bit harder and I will make it out of this.
Having talked to hundreds if not thousands of substance addicted individuals I hear similar stories. Fear of being labeled as weak, or lesser, stupid, immoral, untrustworthy and so on. Before you know it, you are alone. Ideas such as “You got yourself into it, get yourself out.”
Believing that asking for help is akin to shaving your body and paining yourself pink wearing a sign saying “I lie, cheat, steal, and will do nothing but try to hurt you” the consequences of which would be losing everything and almost everyone in your life.
These ideas by no means apply only to opiate addicts, they are universal. What you call an addict, I call a person with a barely understood illness. As long as our society continues to treat these people as pariahs, criminals, worthless, untrustworthy, or just useless we will NEVER start to make progress. There is hope to better the lives of millions of people. We should be using the sad stories and tearful memories of those that passed from this illness already, as motivation to at least help it if not stop it all together.
A Hopeless feeling of Shame
It has been my experience that one of the things most, if not all, substance addicted individuals have in common especially if they are in active addiction is a hopeless feeling of shame. Shame that they ended up stuck in this position. Shame that they are somehow weaker than others. Shame that they are going to embarrass their family and friends. Shame of the label “addict”.
Shame is such a prevalent feeling that you will even hear references to it in the music of artists that have been through addiction such as Eminem. It is this shame that causes the addicted to fall deeper and deeper into a substance, hoping the whole time that they will finally be able to make themselves stop. The reality is most people that struggle with addiction, just can’t stop on their own. The longer they go on, the more likely they are to do things they said they would never do. The sad and eventual end amidst the current opioid epidemic is often overdose.
Remember what horrible things we have done to other groups we found “different” than ourselves. Maybe it’s time to try something different.
I am a former 14 year Police Officer Veteran from Oklahoma and I have Substance Use Disorder (SUD). I worked Narcotics for years in the 90’s and 2000’s both on the street and on the drug task force. It was there I started seeing serious problems with how society deals with people having this issue. I got hurt and put on pain meds (a few times) and before I knew it I was not able to quit. Where does a narcotics officer turn to ask for help with a substance problem? The fear of being judged as an addict or alcoholic often means loss of trust, loss of job (especially mine), loss of friends and family, respect, and looked at as though I am a dirty, immoral person with no self-control. So I hid it and suffered a long time. I have now taken up the mantle trying to use my experience and training on both sides of the line to help addicts get they help that they deserve. 100 years of the Drug War hasn’t worked Let’s Try A Different Way!