Monday, September 21, 2009

A Disgrace

The Front of the SAMHSA building at 1 Choke Ch...Image via Wikipedia

"The national data released today confirms that untreated alcohol and drug addiction remains at pandemic levels, with 23 million Americans suffering from the disease, approximately the same number that suffers from type 2 diabetes," said Victor Capoccia, director of the Closing the Addiction Treatment Gap initiative. "But you wouldn't know it from the way our country responds to the problem. Only one in ten Americans affected by addiction is treated, as opposed to four out of five people with diabetes." --Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

This can't be okay.

We have had "wars on drugs"; we have had "just say no"; we have had boot camps; we have had zero tolerance policies.

Not one of them, frankly, has been worth a damn. Like the man said, doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is a definition of insanity.

Let's try a little common sense.

  1. Get serious about the fact that we are talking about a disease. Not bad habits or behavior. Not a lack of "will power". Note some personal weakness, but a disease. An illness. A malady. Like cancer. Like heart disease. Like schizophrenia. A disease.
  2. Make treatment available on demand. No crap, no managed care nonsense, no nothing. If you ask for treatment you get it. Plus, let's look at some of the highly successful ways of getting someone into treatment, like intervention.
  3. Let's redefine the role of the Criminal Justice System. Is there any other illness in which the courts take such an active interest? Criminal Behavior should be where the courts come in, and rightly so. We are all responsible for our actions, and have to face the consequences. But, let's not criminalize the fact of the illness itself. It does nothing more than to force the addict further underground into a subculture promoting ever more anti-social and deviant behavior. Someone commits a crime--robs a store, shoots someone over a drug deal or during a theft, then they deal with the law and accept fair punishment. But regardless, if drugs are at the heart of the crime, then treatment has to be a part of their rehabilitation. Somewhere along the line, we forgot that most of the people in jail are not hardened criminals, they are excellent candidates for a second chance.
  4. Listen to families, they want help and they want to help. Families need education in addiction and help to deal with the devastating consequences of addiction. Substance Abuse Treatment, unfortunately, is not family friendly. Not that there are not exceptions, but where I live, there is exactly one (1) family education program run at no cost. In case nobody noticed, that's not enough.
Addiction is an individual's nightmare, a family tragedy, and national health emergency. The limitation of treatment to the point were less than 10% of individuals impacted by the illness are receiving treatment, is a national disgrace.

We are so much better than that.

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