When you imagine a drug addict, what does that person look like? Seriously. Just imagine a drug addict. What do you see? Do you see Rush Limbaugh? Do you see someone middle aged with a career and a family? Prescription drug addiction is on the rise. And it often begins by taking the pills as prescribed.
Meth is now manufactured in Mexico and transported to us because that’s cheaper. It can also be made in a two-liter bottle in your trunk. Heroin use is on the rise. Latino populations account for one of the smallest percentages of drug use. Why is that? Is that family or culture or what?
“Don’t we know better than to use heroin?” my buddy asks. “Don’t we all know better?”
Do you honestly think people start there? With heroin? Addictive behavior and mental illness are getting harder and harder to separate. You would have a difficult time convincing me that eating disorders aren’t both. You know they’re on the rise with boys aged 8-10, right? My son is keeping such careful track of his weight that it’s disconcerting.
I appreciate that people who advocate for mental illnesses feel that the conversation is not sensitive enough. America is a country of judgment first, compassion at some indeterminate later date. We know this. Mental illness is a factor in drug abuse, addiction, and violence. That does not mean you are going to be an addict or a violent offender if you have a mental illness. That means that your risk factors have gone up. The same way that early childhood trauma increases your risk factors. And sexual abuse increases your risk factors. And poverty increases your risk factors.
We have to begin the conversation by being honest. By relying on facts and not anecdotes. By talking about the issues rather than our insecurities.
When my buddy asks about heroin, he quickly adds, “You know, there’s so much pain, I don’t always know why people make the choices they do, but I know we’ll do anything to make the pain stop. I know we will.”
My wife is a drug counselor in long-term residential treatment. The assumption is that she’s an ex-addict, but that would be incorrect. You will not find a better drug therapist, and one of the things she does best is education. She takes the time to educate me on all my middle class, Master’s Degree, white privilege bullshit. Start the conversation by being honest.
Drug treatment is one of the cheapest and most important social safety nets. In our state, women with children, and teenagers are currently the only protected treatment populations. Men, you’re on your own. Women without children, good luck. At the same time the state and federal government cut funding, the police announced they no longer had the resources to investigate property crime.
Tell me, how are these things related?
If you don’t understand the intersections between poverty, sex trafficking, prostitution, drug abuse, mental illness, gang violence, child abuse and domestic violence, take some time to educate yourself. Go visit a treatment facility. At Mary’s work, they have a woman who voluntarily teaches yoga, another who voluntarily teaches writing classes. They have GED classes. They have legal advocates, housing coordination and mental health providers. They have dentists who volunteer work. They’ve built a community because that’s what it takes to address addiction. It takes all of us.
If you are under the impression that drug addicts make their own choices and shouldn’t get a dime, you don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about. You might as well argue stellar public education isn’t in the best interest of the country. Yes, because who doesn’t want to be surrounded by a desperate, uneducated populace? Whether or not vulnerable people live in your house, they live next door.
Start the conversation by being honest. About what you know, about what you don’t, about what you’re willing to learn.