Name: Alejandro Garcia
From: El Paso, Texas
Be the Connection
Be the Connection
“The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connections”-Johann Hari. As I walked into the psychiatric center as part of my nursing clinical rotations, I was surprised to learn that I would be working with a patient who was diagnosed with severe cannabis use disorder as well as substance-induced psychotic disorder. Despite having had months of lectures regarding mental illnesses, our mental health course had briefly touched on the topic regarding addiction. In my mind, I incorrectly developed a scenario of what this patient would look like, how the patient would act, and how he would behave with me. It was that day when I read his chart that changed everything!
As addiction to drugs and alcohol increases worldwide, one must wonder, why are we dealing with an addiction crisis? Why is it that in 2017 alone there were 70,237 drug overdose deaths in the United States? But even more importantly, what can we do to improve? Contrary to popular belief, drug addiction is not caused by lack of moral principles, or a lack of willpower to simply stop using drugs. Rather, statistics indicate that the cause of drug use is related to social factors and stressors. In reality, drug addiction is a complex disease that requires more than just “strong will”. Thus, complex measures should be put in place.
Despite popular belief that drug addiction is directly correlated to drug availability, statistics as well as a different approach to drug addiction show otherwise. For example, over the course of two decades of Portugal’s political response to drug addiction (a similar approach to the “American” that involved harsh policies lead by the criminal justice system), Portugal found itself with half of the inmate population imprisoned for drug-related-reasons as well as the highest rate of HIV infection in the entire European Union. However, in 2001 Portugal took a radical step in becoming the first country in the world to decriminalize the consumption of all drugs! Almost 20 years later the Portuguese government has opted to provide heroin and cocaine addicts with what they need for safer consumption: clean needles, tinfoil, and psychological support. As a result of this, Portugal’s drug-induced death rate has plummeted to five times lower than the European Union and currently stands at one fifth of the United States’. Furthermore, the rate of HIV infection has dropped from 104.2 new cases per million in 2000 to 4.2 cases per million in 2015. As a matter of fact, Americo Nave, a psychologist and President of the outreach organization Crescer, stated, “By giving them syringe kits, some people think that we are enabling them, helping them get their fix. But we do not advocate consumption. We try to talk to them, help them improve their lives. However, if they do not want to stop using, it is better if they do it safely,” A drastically different approach to that in the United States.
Evidence demonstrates that a non-judgmental and non-criminal approach to drug addiction can save lives! For instance, statistics regarding supervised drug consumption facilities (a facility where drug users can consume drugs in safer conditions with the assistance of trained staff) have demonstrated that these sites can reduce public disorder associated with drugs and would lead to a drop in HIV and Hepatitis C transmission. As a result, this reduces the consequences of drug addiction not only on an individual but also on a social level. Examples of drug use on an individual level includes learning, judgement, and decision-making impairment as well as behavioral changes. Furthermore, drug use also affects interpersonal relationships with friends and family and may even ruin personal goals as well as the individual’s or family’s financial security. However, the most permanent effect of drug addiction is death which becomes more likely through addiction as a result of increased tolerance that leads to overdose. On a social level, the Office of National Drug Control Policy reported that in 2002, the economic cost of drug abuse to the United States was 180.9 billion. Moreover, the economic consequences of drug abuse require extensive medical treatment and may result in abuse, neglect, and abandonment of children. Furthermore, there is a direct correlation between drug addiction and crime such as domestic violence, assault, burglary, and identity theft.
Approximately 20 years later into the American opioid epidemic it is tragic to see that drug-related-deaths keep climbing year by year. This leads to much room for improvement! It is first crucial to understand that addiction is not only related to drugs as it can also include gaming, gambling, sex, food and pornography. However, despite the addiction, there are actions that we can implement to remedy the crisis on the individual and social level. First it requires society to change view of drug addiction. It is important to remember that addiction is not a choice or a moral failing! This can include decriminalizing the use of drugs and providing the necessary resources to those who seek help. This alone can help drug addicts to not feel alone in the fight as well as encourage professional help. On an individual level it is important to stand by the individual experiencing an addiction as well as encourage him/her to seek help (this may entail finding resources for them). Lastly, it is important to be supportive but also not covering for the problems caused by substance abuse. It is important to be supportive and nonjudgmental while the individual recovers.
In conclusion, drug addiction is often misunderstood. For me it was that day when I worked with a patient who suffered from cannabis use disorder that opened my eyes to the reality of drug addiction. I learned that all my prejudice thoughts I developed were incorrect and that anyone can undergo a drug addiction regardless of socioeconomic status, race, and even religious beliefs. It was then that I understood that what a drug addict needed the most was not judgment, prejudice, or hate but rather someone who would be there to help even if they fell. Thus, the solution to drug addiction does not lie in judging them or incarcerating them, but rather on being the connection! BE THE CONNECTION!