My last three columns described the current regional opiate addiction problem, how prescription painkillers play a role in it, how the brain is altered by addiction, and how incredibly difficult it is for an addict to shed his habit.
I described the lives of two addicts, each with strikingly different paths into and out of addiction. And each column made a case for public understanding of addiction issues to replace simple condemnation of addicts.
For with wide societal understanding — rather than stigmatization — of the nature of addiction, we can focus on productive strategies for prevention and treatment.
I spoke with Peg Sallade, Director of DanversCARES, a regional coalition of educators, parents, counselors, treatment providers and law enforcement officers who work together with young people to show them the potential dangers and horrible realities of alcohol and drug abuse.
If anything is going to dissuade teenagers from drug experimentation, it is most likely to be real information, true stories about the addicted life, and the message that any person — regardless of the strength of his character and will — can be vulnerable to the pleasures of increasing alcohol or drug consumption.
Once a person becomes addicted, stigmatization is of no use either. For addiction is its own punishment and imprisonment. Addicts need to be encouraged to admit their habit and encouraged to seek treatment. Both society and addicts have a much more difficult time with their respective roles when addictions must be kept secret, stigmatized and shamed. Remember, at one time, cancer existed in similar shadows.
Opiate addictions, in particular, because they exert a fearsome hold on the brain and because attempting to defeat them requires an intensive and multifaceted protocol, usually cannot be satisfactorily addressed by the addict alone and privately. The most successful rates of recovery are achieved by addicts who receive the most support — from friends, family, support groups, counseling and society.