Families worldwide are begging for help for their addicted loved ones. You have been pleading. Begging for help. Our addicted loved ones very often are asking for help. We have a medical crisis going on in our homes, in our towns and cities, in our country and worldwide. A medical crisis on our streets, in our hospitals and in our prisons A medical crisis that is destroying the lives of people in every walk of life.
Last weekend alone – in 48 hours – there were 42 overdoses in a two block radius in Whalley, B.C. A neighbourhood of unimaginable pain and suffering. All people suffering the unforgiving disease of addiction and many battling mental illness. Every single one of those people I know well and care deeply for. They are the sons and daughters of other mothers. They are people struggling with a disease so severe, a disease holding them hostage and sadly they can not find their way out of that disease. They are being held hostage by their addiction.
And as family members who have an addicted loved one, you are being held hostage by that same addiction – all the behaviors that become the fall-out of that addiction. The everyday fear when the phone rings.
Just a couple of news headlines this week that are indicative of the growing epidemic society can no longer deny.
“BC Inmate “begging” for drug rehab says he can’t get it”.
“Union for Corrections Officers say rehab in BC jails is inadequate, even though the government says it is a priority”
“Fraser Health Authority putting forth a list of harm reduction initiatives in Surrey including a supervised drug consumption site”
“42 drug overdoes in Whalley in one weekend”.
“Crack cocaine contained fentenyl”
“Drive-by shootings linked to drug trade”
I am not a “political” person but the treatment given to those we love, those struggling with addiction so powerful it has overtaken their lives, overtaken our lives, that treatment has to change. The status quo does not work. It never did and it never will. Addicted people need treatment. Punishing people alone convicted of crimes related to their drug use does not fix the problem. Yes, they should be held accountable for crimes they commit. I don’t deny that. But we need to stop “putting a bandage on a gunshot wound”. We have to treat the disease. Every day we wait more people are overdosing and dying. Families are devastated and lives are shattered. And those numbers have been increasing astronomically over the past few years.
As I mentioned, I am not a “political” person but one chapter in my book Addiction: A Mother’s Story – Second Edition, deals with this issue. It is perhaps a political chapter. Change has to happen. I am going to copy that chapter here for you to read. You may agree with me. You may not. But we have to start somewhere. I hope if you agree with anything I have written, you will forward it on through Facebook or Twitter or another social media avenue. Perhaps sending it off to your political representative. We did not sign up for this. But someone we love, someone we care deeply for, one of our loved ones is heavily addicted. They are not at a place where they can help themselves.
Our lives have been forever changed because we have a loved one addicted to drugs or alcohol. You have been trying absolutely everything you can. I know this because so did I. But this is a disease you cannot fix on your own. It will take the health care system, corrections, housing, mental health – it will “take a village”.
ADDICTION: A MOTHER’S STORY
Treatment or Punishment – Treatment or Incarceration?
I am sure that every one of you who has a loved one struggling with drug addiction and the resulting criminal activities will feel as passionately as I do about this subject.
Do we, as a society, keep doing what we have always done, or do we stop that revolving door and admit that what we have been doing is not working? It is not working now. It never worked in the past. And it won’t work in the future.
Our prisons, worldwide, are overflowing with people whose crimes are related to their drug addiction. Most of those people likely made that first moral choice to try potentially addictive drugs in their teen years or early twenties. And I believe it would be fairly safe to say that none of those who experimented with drugs ever expected to become addicted. Never expected to be that person who would lose everything.
Those are the years when every generation tends to take the biggest risks. In the case of drugs, not any one of our loved ones ever expected to become addicted to the drugs they were experimenting with. It was just supposed to be fun. It was just supposed to be a party.
And for some, it was just a party.
It wasn’t that they were stronger or more determined than our child. It wasn’t that they had willpower and our child didn’t. It wasn’t because they were born into a certain family or attended a certain school or lived in a certain area. None of that matters. It was simply because they did not have the disease of addiction, and our child did.
Many people will argue that it is a moral choice, not a disease. My feeling about addiction is that the very first time our loved one took a potentially addictive drug, they made a moral choice. They crossed that line. But once addiction raises its ugly head, it is a disease, albeit a disease with a choice.
At any time, an addict can stop using their drug of choice, and the disease halts. They will always have that propensity, but they will have stopped their addiction in its tracks. Sound simple enough
Well, if it were that simple, we would not have hundreds of millions of people worldwide struggling with addictions so severe that they lose everything in life they love. Everything and everyone they care about for that next fix or that next drink.
Addiction is a disease, and as a society, we have to stop treating addicted people with punishment. Worldwide, countries are building more and bigger prisons to house all those people who have committed crimes to feed their addiction.
Now don’t get me wrong – I too believe that people should have to pay for crimes they commit. I am not saying they should not be held accountable. I am only saying that incarceration is not the long term answer.
Instead of building more and bigger prisons, why are we not turning some of those prisons into long-term treatment centers, under the umbrella of our healthcare agencies and in connection with our corrections services.
Say, for example, your son or daughter is before a judge for robbery. Typically, if guilty, they will receive a prison sentence, serve their time, and then be released – still an addict. And thus the revolving door. Drug use – crime – punishment – release – drug use – crime – punishment – release.
If nothing changes, nothing changes. It is as simple as that.
The average cost to incarcerate one person is $115,000.00 per year. I say the average cost because minimum security prisons would be less, maximum security prisons would be more.
What if our governments got smart and admitted what they clearly know: that the status quo is not working?
On average, 90% of imprisoned people are for one reason or another there for drug or alcohol-related crimes – possession, robberies to support a drug habit, car thefts, home invasions, assaults, spousal abuse, prostitution to support a drug habit, DUI’s, vehicular homicide while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, fraud, identity theft, credit card theft, shoplifting. The list goes on and on. But the common denominator is that 90% of the imprisoned population is in for substance-abuse-related offenses, and 70% of them are battling severe addictions.
Now, what if our laws changed? Instead of it being an automatic prison term, what if when an addict is before the judge, awaiting sentencing, he or she is given a choice: prison or treatment. (I am talking about individuals not convicted of violent crimes, such as first-degree murder, sexual assault, or crimes against children; those people should receive prison sentences.)
If you choose prison, then off you go, nothing is really expected of you. You receive no reduction of your sentence for time served, no chance of early release, but you go in, do your time, are bored out of your mind playing cards or watching TV, sleep, live in a potentially violent atmosphere and eventually you’re released. You don’t have to do anything. Just be there. After release, you check in as required with a parole officer and have regular appointments.
If you choose treatment, then you go to a facility that was previously a prison, only now it has been concerted into a fully functioning treatment center, with bright, clean rooms and inviting common spaces. It is mandatory to attend daily meetings, group counseling and individual counseling. You must attend programs and engage in behaviors that help you come to terms with your addiction – learning relapse triggers so you are prepared when they arise, taking anger-management courses, taking communications courses, eating nutritious meals and snacks, engaging in fitness programs – all run by caring, well-trained professionals at the top of their game. Every facility is accredited and therefore required to meet those criteria.
And for three hours a day, you work in a program that helps you become employable upon your release – for example, as a carpenter, welder, hairdresser, barber, cook, nurses aid, care aid, or one of many other professions. These courses can be completed during your stay. As you come to the end of your term in treatment, plans are in the works to help you secure safe and affordable housing and employment, and you have an aftercare plan that includes a support network so you have the best chance of staying the course.
If we keep incarcerating people, keep punishing them, without giving them the tools they need to live a life they deserve – we as a family deserve, we as a community deserve – then the cycle continues. But if we offer treatment and training, then we give each of those people the opportunity to break the chains of addiction holding them hostage.
We break that cycle of the revolving door, and we welcome back good men and women who were lost to us, perhaps for a very long time. They have gained the necessary tools that a very good treatment program will provide, and they have an opportunity to work proudly in industries or professions that can support them financially.
If we did this, the cost per year would be comparable. But when a person chose recovery and training, their chance of re-offending would decrease considerably. In comparison, the person who chose incarceration in all likelihood would continue to struggle, leading to yet another revolving door.
Everyone wins every time a person struggling with addiction finds sobriety. We then have another responsible adult in our community – working, raising a family, contributing in a healthy manner.
Crime would go down astronomically. The cost of health care, emergency personnel, police, the courts and all the other services related to substance abuse would decrease if members of our addicted population found sobriety.
We have that opportunity when they are before the courts. We have a “captive audience”. Let’s use that opportunity to help those people who are at a place in their lives where they are unable to help themselves.
Addiction is a disease. The status quo doesn’t work. It is time to rewrite some of our laws.
Some will say this is impossible to implement. But I have to say: Why? Everyday that we delay, more very sick people continue in the revolving door. And sadly, many die while our governments are building more prisons.
We will always deal with the naysayers who believe we should simply lock up addicts and throw away the keys. Too often, though, people have stayed silent when their voices could have made a difference. We can’t stay silent any longer. The lives of our sons and daughters are depending on us. We need to speak up and let our politicians know that it’s time to see addiction for what it is: a disease that has far too many of our loved ones in its grip.
June Ariano-Jakes –
Author of Addiction: A Mother’s Story Second Edition
I sincerely hope this week is a better week for each of you. The daily worries. The daily fear. The daily heartbreak. I hope some of that is reduced for you this week.
Take care of yourself – remember, you count.
Thank you to those of you who have sent me notes and shared your stories. I am humbled.
I truly care.