On some things, it's easy for us to agree. Speeding is a dangerous and unnecessary risk and hazard. Finding a peaceful way to share the planet is an ideal goal. Stealing is bad.
Let's add to that list this simple statement: Opioid addiction is a scourge on our existence.
On those things, we should all be able to agree.
But it's in dealing with the actual work of dealing with opioid addiction that we as a society have to make difficult decisions.
President Trump took a significant step Thursday in his address to the nation. He declared opioid abuse a national public health emergency. The declaration allows the government to redirect resources in various ways and to expand access to medical services in rural areas.
But it stopped short. There's no new money devoted to the declaration. All that's really been done is blowing words toward a problem.
One medical use of opioids is as a painkiller. After injury or surgery, the drugs prescribed can bring relief. But they can also be extremely addictive.
Opioid addiction isn't new. Heroin has been used for centuries, both as a painkiller and as a mood-altering substance. A significant difference now is manmade opioid-based painkillers, a veritable growth industry with legal deliveries being made to every city in the country. The street demand for opioids has led to addictive synthetic drugs such as fentanyl.
The management of pain is an uppermost concern. When most people are dealing with truly debilitating pain every moment of their life, the first priority for them is finding a way to eliminate or at least reduce that pain. Opioids are the best solution we've come up with so far. But the chemical reactions between our bodies and opiods that reduce or eliminate pain are the same ones that make our bodies continue to crave the drugs.
That's where we reach the point of demarcation. We can all wring our hands over opioid abuse and addiction as much as we wish. But those addicts will not reach a point of recovery just because we all really, really want it to happen. It takes money and time. To help an addict through withdrawal is challenging enough. But unless the base issues of the addiction are addressed, addicts inevitably return to the behavior.
For a simple example of how these insidious kinds of addiction occur, ask any former smoker you know how many times before they quit did they attempt to quit.
We've shown a reluctance as a society to deal with mental issues in general. Mental issues play a role for many with addiction issues. Yet those funds are among the ones flatlined or slashed in the current social and political environment.
Addictions do not mean people are weak or useless. Addiction generally means people are damaged in some way, physically and/or mentally. They are the ones who need help.
It's ridiculous to think people wake up in the morning and decide they want to become helpless addicts. That's not the way it happens. But that's the way parts of our society view the addict.
The addict has to want help, of course. And even if help is desired and given, it's not always going to take. Relapses are possible for the rest of the addict's life. That's what addiction is.
We're paying for opioid addiction as a society regardless. We can pay with more crime victims and more drag on society, or we can pay with efforts of counseling and alternatives to addictive substances. The first person to create a successful non-addictive painkiller will be in pages of future history books.
Disappointingly, the one specific program planned to battle what Trump called a horrible plague” is an advertising campaign targeting young people, showing “the devastation and the ruination it causes."
President after president has attempted advertising blitzes with the hope of targeting potential addicts and reducing the probability of addiction. There's scant evidence of the campaigns having any impact. We're more than three decades on from the introduction of “just say no,” yet we're still talking about addiction. The only difference now is there are more voices. But it doesn't matter to the addict how many people are yelling.
The president, sadly, was absolutely correct when he said, "Our current addiction crisis, and especially the epidemic of opioid deaths, will get worse before it gets better.” If the crisis is to be quieted, we have to make a commitment of more than words.