It is difficult to argue with those who state that drug addiction is the biggest single social problem of our times. It is undeniable that the threat of both legal and illegal drugs, most especially those facing our youth and our elderly, have reached unprecedented proportions.
Certainly, the scrutiny of network, cable, and social media attention—often spurred by proclamations from political candidates—capture our attention. Movies, documentaries, TV specials, feature articles in newspapers and national magazines, and the worldwide web bombard us 24/7.
Consider just a few of last year’s headlines:
- “Heroin in the Heartland,” as portrayed in segment of 60 Minutes, traces the geographic shift of unprecedented opiate use by teens.
- Marijuana poses new treatment challenges as states move toward commercialization, decriminalization, and legalization.
- Legal prescription drugs become a growing problem among older adults, and at same time, prescription drug abuse by adolescents is considered the biggest drug epidemic of all.
So, is there any positive news in all of this?
The answer is yes. As a society, we are realizing and accepting that mental health conditions and addiction touch the lives of millions of Americans, that we need to transform the way these illnesses are treated in our health care system, and that we need to ensure that everyone gets the treatment and services they need.
With the media, criminal justice system, 2016 presidential candidates, parents, and community groups focused on all aspects of substance abuse, addiction, mental health, and recovery, the discourse fills the air like never before.
In addition, there are more encouraging signs from Washington, DC, like the following remark from President Obama, speaking at a community forum late last year on the prescription drug abuse and heroin epidemic (The White House, 2015):
Let’s face it, there is still shame, and fear and stigma that too often surround substance abuse that often prevents people from seeking the help they deserve. When people loosely throw around words like “junkie,” nobody wants to be labeled in that way, and part of our goal here is to replace those words with words like “father” or “daughter” or “son,” or “friend” or “sister,” because then we can understand that there is a human element behind this, this can happen to any of us, to any of our families.
Over the last few decades, we have learned what does not work. The “War on Drug” doesn’t work. “Just Say No” doesn’t work. Criminalizing addicts doesn’t work.
We have also come to understand that addiction is a brain disease that threatens us all, regardless of age, race, gender or socioeconomic status. We now know that addiction, much more often than not, stems from childhood trauma of one kind or another.
As we enter a new year, it is encouraging to observe that we are finally coming to the inevitable conclusion that a human condition requires a humane response.
The White House. (2015). Remarks by the president at community forum at east end family resource center. Retrieved from https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/10/21/remarks-president-community-forum-east-end-family-resource-center