by Robert Kesten
It’s A Small World After All
Sitting recently in a large meeting room in Washington, DC, with 435 candidates and officeholders from across the nation, it quickly became apparent that we shared many of the same issues and concerns. The growing crisis of opioid use, addiction, and mental illness plagues every region of the country and the growing costs are destroying budgets and siphoning funds from education, infrastructure and other vital needs as these illnesses destroy lives.
In New York State, the 2018–2019 budget contains over $200 million to fight opioids and addiction. It is good that the state can afford to fund new, existing and expanded programs, but will we see progress, will we see a reduction in this insidious disease that destroys individuals, families, and communities regardless of boundaries?
A Personal Issue
This is very personal for me. Growing up, my mother worked at and then ran the only drug rehabilitation program in White Plains. It was an all-consuming job and to spend time with my mother, I would go there after school and spend time with those seeking help and those who were there by order of the court. As a child I participated in group sessions, learning first hand why people became addicted, how hard it was to stop and what it took to remain “clean” in a world filled with pressures.
In those days it was still a unique perspective to view addiction as an illness. Stigma was pervasive; if you were an addict you were weak, bad and unworthy. That made it difficult for people to seek help, adding to that, costs of treatment and the time commitment and it was no wonder so many people found recovery more difficult than the addiction itself.
Today we understand that this is an illness, there is still far too much stigma, but as the problem grows and changes, as it impacts more middle and upper-middle-class young families, the desire for a cure increases and the willingness to spend tax dollars expands. Unfortunately, many of the strategies have remained the same and the results deadlier.
Getting to the Root Cause of the Problem
Prevention is the best solution to this problem, as it is for Type 2 Diabetes and heart disease, yet we start the process far too late in the game. By the time children are in middle school (or more likely in high school) too many have been exposed to the very substances that will afflict them for the rest of their lives. Resources need to be spent in pre-K, on young people before they become parents and be patterned across our society. Like with heart disease or certain cancers, some will be more susceptible than others, but by living a healthy lifestyle, by having access to early counseling and a stigma-free environment, we will see greater reductions in the problem.
Treatment, interdiction, and demands that big pharma and the medical/industrial complex are held accountable will indeed continue to be part of stemming the tide and helping those who are already addicted, but this is dealing with a problem already of epidemic proportions. Like with childhood obesity, we have to take on the challenge before it is a problem, before we are treating the diabetes and heart disease…symptoms, not root causes of the problem.
For some reason, we are more comfortable treating symptoms that preventing problems. Prevention is less costly, saves lives and doesn’t destroy families and communities.
The time to change the way we address the addiction and opioid crisis is now, not after it takes the life of someone you love.