The name of this series, “Addiction is a Global Problem”, is no joke or laughing matter. Although the problem exists all over the world, we are going to focus on our country, the United States.
I have a philosophy regarding Substance Abuse, and Addiction, and I have been espousing it for years. Yes, it has matured, but the foundation hasn’t been replaced. What I can tell you is that we are in dire circumstances, but all is not lost and the situation is far from hopeless. I see the potential dawn on the horizon and I see it in recovery movements and in realizations in the medical community at the highest levels.
I believe that education is the key to a fundamental shift in the statistics. The paradigm has to move away from the stigmatic assumptions that exist today for not only the active substance abuser but also for those in recovery.
What is amazing is that if you do the follow through thinking about what I am about to present, you begin to see that those in the Recovery community could be a large part of the hope of the nation and our future as a fully functional, charitable, and economically secure society. In order to make it work Society has to get invested.
Think about it:
“Alcohol misuse, illicit drug use, misuse of medications, and substance use disorders are estimated to cost the United States more than $400 billion in lost workplace productivity (in part, due to premature mortality), health care expenses, law enforcement and other criminal justice costs (e.g., drug-related crimes), and losses from motor vehicle crashes.”(Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health)
$400 billion. What if we could halve that number over the next ten years? That is a combined savings/productive output of Two Trillion dollars. That doesn’t even speak to the changes in society, the increase in tax revenue, etc.
There will be a large number of people back out in the work force working, creating jobs, paying taxes and giving back to the society that has now welcomed them back from the land of lost with open arms, if we adopt a new way of thinking about the community being part of the solution.
“Nearly 21 million Americans – more than the number of people who have all cancers combined – suffer from substance use disorders.”(Executive Summary of the Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health)
I mentioned this briefly in an earlier volume, but when an addict recovers, and re-integrates successfully with society, the majority of us are so grateful for the new life that we become very service oriented. We are some the most kind, loving, and charitable people there are. After all, when you make it out of what seems like hell and find a way to live a life of peace and joy, it is difficult to not be grateful and want to share your joy. Many of us do this by serving the community and society at large.
21 million people. So if we again halve that number over ten years and only half of that number are the charitable community driven people I describe, we have 5.75 million people willing to get behind needs, and give to the community that helped save their lives. And all of these estimates are assuming a static 21 million people costing $400 billion annually. That does not take into account the future addicts added to the situation, although that number should decline dramatically if we are successful in our paradigm shift.
So where does this shift begin and what does it look like? Let’s begin by acknowledging the problem. We as a society are first, scared. We are scared to be near an addict, they might hurt us or our family, or take what is ours. Second, we have a predefined picture of what an addict is; a dirty, immoral, probably disease ridden, most likely homeless, depraved, and disgusting individual.
The truth of the matter is, there are so many people in recovery today that have gone on the become professionals, educators, entertainers, politicians, you never know who around you is, in fact, an addict. It is highly possible that your Doctor, or your lawyer, or your congressman is an addict.
I have been clean and recovering from my addiction since 1987 and in the time since I have pastored a church for seven years, founded and built a multi-million dollar software company that managed financial transactions for banks in our network operating center; I have sponsored doctors, and other professionals and have met politicians in recovery.
Most people have also assumed that addicts were addicts by choice and that they just made, and keep making, bad decisions. The medical community, however, and now the Surgeon General, have discovered that there are precursors and risk factors associated with addiction, and that it is not a moral failing but a disease. That does remove a great deal, if not all, of the responsibility from the addict for being one.
So you see, the old stereotype doesn’t fit. Maybe it’s time to shift the thinking.
A New Attitude
If we, as a society, can look upon the addict as someone that is sick and needs treatment, our internal understanding will result in a change in our external reaction to the addict and being around them. We can become loving and accepting of the situation and hold out a hand of help that the addict so needs rather than holding up a judgmental hand of self-defense which further crushes the spirit of the addict that still suffers.
Understanding and compassion go a long way toward bringing an addict to their day of decision, their bottom, their moment of desperation which triggers the string of reactions that result in recovery.
I am not saying that addicts aren’t potentially problematic and that we should welcome them into our homes to show we care. That is not a good idea. They may rob you blind if they are still actively using. I am saying that changing our understanding helps us be kind. And if the community wants to change the direction of this problem that it needs to be kind and it also needs to be invested in the solution.
In my home state of Tennessee, the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse started a project a few years back called the Faith Based Coalition Initiative. This project is designed to access the deep reach of the churches into the community to bring awareness and understanding, as well as certify churches as Recovery Churches if they will send one or more members, staff members, etc., to a training that empowers the church through the trained member to properly evaluate and provide resource guidance to anyone that may come to the church asking for help with substance abuse issues.
This is a concept that could be extended to communities, creating Certified Recovery Communities with an expanded set of certification criteria beyond what the Faith Based Initiative applies to the churches.
A Certified Recovery Community should have several outlets (Health Department, Medical Clinics, Fire Department, EMS Services, Police Department, community organizations, schools) that all understand substance abuse issues and the local resources available to those seeking help.
Local law enforcement would be trained in and follow a policy of treatment first, rather than arrest, for certain circumstances. This would include “Safe Haven” for anyone coming forward voluntarily for help. The concept of Safe Haven is one that should become pervasive throughout the community. This should be part of the discussion.
A Certified Recovery Community should have events. These events could be sponsored by:
- Civic Groups
- Business Networking Groups
- Charitable Organizations
- Municipal Government
These events could have many forms;
- Fairs or street fairs
These events could be promoted on the radio, billboards, flyers, etc. And they should all have a theme that says something to the effect that “We Care”, “We Will Help”, and “You Are Safe”. Letting those that are sick know there is a way out and letting them see those who have done it (recovering addicts and alcoholics) is the biggest attraction. Planting the seed may not have immediate results for many, but planting the seeds will bear fruit.
These events could be held as frequently as the community sees fit but should be put on at least annually.
A Certified Recovery Community needs to have a Recovery High School available to its youth. This is a place that is safe for youth in recovery and also has recovery related meetings, coursework, and places to meet and talk about recovery issues. There are Recovery Schools today that are thriving and offering youth the optimum opportunity to not only graduate, but to excel.
“The staff of recovery high schools most often includes administrative staff, teachers, substance abuse counselors, and mental health professionals that each play a critical role in supporting their students. Additionally, recovery schools provide support for families learning to how to live with, and provide support for, their teens entering into the recovery Lifestyle.” (https://recoveryschools.org/what-is-a-recovery-high-school/)
A Certified Recovery Community should have a Recovery Center. When I was growing up communities always had a community center, where kids could go and play games like ping-pong, checkers, etc., usually run by the Parks and recreation department. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the community either through Parks and Rec, or some other group, could offer a facility like that, with meeting rooms that could be rented by the various 12 step groups for their meetings? This center could also have computers for research and job applications, a refreshment counter, a TV room; just a place for people in recovery to hang out together.
A Certified Recovery Community should also have available resources. It won’t do much good calling addicts and alcoholics out of the darkness if there no place for them to go.
One of the biggest problems in the world of addiction and treatment today is the availability of treatment space.
“Although 20.8 million people (7.8 percent of the population) met the diagnostic criteria for a substance use disorder in 2015, only 2.2 million individuals (10.4 percent) received any type of treatment. Of those treated, 63.7 percent received treatment in specialty substance use disorder treatment programs.” (Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health)
This is not all from lack of treatment facilities, but a large percentage of it is.
There are probably other features a Recovery Community could have, but these are ideas that could help a community make a huge dent in the problem and investing in the solutions would wind up saving lives, saving money and making the community a nicer place to live.
It will not happen unless civic leaders, business owners, church leaders, the local government, and others put some skin in the game. This is not an issue of throwing money at a problem that will continue indefinitely, at least not on the current order of magnitude. It is an investment in people that can impact the community in a very positive way and contribute further to combatting the problem at the individual level, face to face, until it is scarcely seen.
We will continue next week with a discussion furthering the idea of what the community can do and what the effect should bring.
Please join me again next week and feel free to let me know if you have received anything of value so far, or in the volumes ahead. My email address is on the website.
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