When you come from a place of privilege, you have to be careful to check it. You have to realize, truly understand, that you will never understand the experiences of a racial group, a socioeconomic group, a religious group, if you have never been subject to what life is like for those individuals. “Walked in their shoes”, to borrow a cliché, or, perhaps more accurately, “walked in their skin.”
With that said, it’s ok to have opinions, and it’s ok to voice them. You just cannot speak OVER the voices of minorities or sects, PARTICULARLY when it is a matter of opinion about what life is like FOR those minorities or sects.
This is all a fancy way of saying I have been privileged in my mental health and my access to treatment and my support network, so I do not really have the authority to speak about what life is like for those caught up in the opioid crisis. But I have opinions, born of sympathy and empathy, born of conviction, that I am choosing to share, because it’s devastating to think about and I do not like thinking about it alone.
ADDICTION IS NOT A CHARACTER FLAW.
ADDICTION IS NOT WEAKNESS OF CHARACTER.
No one wants to be an opioid addict. No one sets out to have an addict’s existence. I firmly, firmly believe that drug users are simply trying to self-medicate; simply trying not to hurt so badly, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I firmly, firmly believe that the majority of addicts have significant trauma, or pain, or mental illness, at the root of their addictions. We already know that Substance Abuse Disorder has a genetic component, and you can’t leave out the nurture part of the nature/nurture dichotomy, so it should come as no surprise that individuals who drew the short straw with regards to each half attempt to find ways to manage that mental anguish.
The opioid crisis started because the pharmaceutical industry engineered it, and got the doctors on board with prescribing too potent painkillers, too frequently. We came to expect NO pain or minimal pain, post-surgery, post-procedure, postpartum, because the Percocet worked so well. And there were so MANY of them.
And now? Now it’s evolved, like a virus; adapting to the changing environment in a desperate bid for survival. Now it’s fentanyl. Now there’s fentanyl in everything, and scores of people are dying…people, real people, people whose parents once carried them home from the hospital, filled with dreams for the future.
So…what do we do?
We stop criminalizing drug users. We recognize this as the public health crisis that it is, and allocate taxpayer dollars for universal healthcare…including recovery and rehabilitative services. Until then, we support safe-injection sites; we work towards a unified database of treatment beds; we enforce Good Samaritan laws; we use Naloxone.
We cannot abandon people in the throes of addiction. If our friends or relatives were diagnosed with lupus or aplastic anemia, we would send flowers and baked goods; we’d offer company and compassion. But when our friends or relatives are suffering from Substance Abuse Disorder, there are no baked goods. There is a stigma, heavy, like a funeral veil, over this particular mental health struggle, and, until addiction is treated as a biophysical issue like lupus or aplastic anemia, we will not make any progress.
The whole thing makes my heart hurt.