The opioid epidemic is a complex issue. With Trump declaring it as a national public health emergency on October 26, we as a society have been met with some complicated questions. Should drug use be considered a criminal activity? Can people kick their addictions through willpower and a “Just Say No” approach as Trump’s declaration seemed to imply?
To answer both of those questions, we need to have a proper understanding of what addiction actually is. Recovery advocate Jason Wahler describes it as a “primary chronic progressive and fatal disease that’s centered in the core of your brain.” Why anyone should be treated as a criminal or told to suffer through it on their own is unbeknownst to anyone who’s properly educated in substance abuse and mental health.
"We must first create a distinction between addiction and the individual suffering from addiction."
In response to this public health crisis, Walgreens recently announced that they are stocking the overdose-reversing drug in all 8,000 of its pharmacies while CVS Health are also offering it in many locations. While some critics may think that this is allowing drug addicts to use, Dr. Nancy Irwin, Primary Therapist at Seasons Recovery Centers, believes that this is a step in the right direction.
“Saving lives must be the first step,” Irwin says. “And then, hopefully, people who are choosing to use will understand they’re not being criminalized for it, that people are trying to help them and that hopefully they will take the next step and get formal treatment.”
Similar to the clean needle exchange program, general access to Narcan is really just giving someone a backup plan to dying. Rather than shaming or guilting the addict into not using, it gives him or her a sense of power and choice in their decision-making. The difference between these two approaches come down to life and death.
“If you just try to train someone to ‘Don’t use,’ ‘Don’t smoke,’ ‘Don’t drink,’ especially someone young, they’re going to react,” explains Irwin. “They’re going to rebel and they’re going to do the very thing you tell them not to do. That does not work.”
To be fair, addiction is just doing its job. It’s never put the interest of keeping someone alive in its purview. As for us, our job is to pry the obsessive parasite away from the person itself. In doing that, we must first create a distinction between addiction and the individual suffering from addiction.
By allowing someone under the greater mechanism of addiction to stay alive even though they are sick is not encouraging the person to stay in the sickness itself. Rather, as Irwin puts it, “It’s extending a life raft for them when they’re ready to grab onto it.”