Addiction Awareness Scholarship Campaign 2020 – The Changing Face of Addiction


The Changing Face of Addiction

Raymond Brown

Addiction Awareness Scholarship Essay

The Changing Face of Addiction

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 19.7 million American adults battled a substance use disorder in 2017. Drug abuse and addiction cost America more than $740 billion annually in lost workplace productivity, healthcare expenses, and crime-related costs. In 2017, 30.5 million people used an illicit drug in the past 30 days. That corresponds to about 1 in 9 Americans or 1-4 young adults aged 18-25. There is little debate that America is, in fact dealing with an addiction crisis. This often leads to permanent physical and emotional damage to users and it negatively impacts their families.

The important question is why are we dealing with an addiction crises? I believe the problem is multifaceted. First of all, the previous and current attempts to address this issue have been largely ineffective. Nancy Reagan’s “Just say no” campaign could not have been less effective as it failed to recognize the desperation and lack of hope in poor inner-city communities and led to the criminalization of addicts. While we know that this is really a health crisis, rather than offer medical services to those in need, America’s initial reaction was to address the issue with the criminal system. Addicts are put in jail rather than given access to viable treatment options. This exacerbates the problem because drugs are readily available in many prisons. Further, there is little in the way of effective drug treatment in jail. Therefore, many people come out of jail worse off, and more addicted then they were when they went in.

Insufficient funding for the treatment of mental health is another contributing factor to the addiction crisis as many addicts are self-medicating to assuage the symptoms of untreated mental health issues.

In summary, the problem has been largely ignored by the bulk of society because the face of addiction has been poor Black people in inner cities. These citizens don’t wield much political power so this issue not been properly addressed. However, more recently, addiction has begun to impact white middle-class communities. As the face of addiction transforms to include athletes and middle-class families addicted to prescription drugs, it has suddenly occurred to America that this is a medical problem. Almost overnight, the paradigm has shifted, and now we have concluded that addicts need medical treatment versus jail time.

The problem can feel insurmountable. Drugs are readily available in our schools and communities. Communities faced with high unemployment, poor educational opportunities, inadequate health care institutions can be overcome with despair and hopelessness. These environments provide fertile soil for the problem of alcohol and drug addiction to prosper and grow.

The societal solution to America’s addiction problem is not obvious but there some things we can do that will help. First, we can treat the Black man in Baltimore addicted to crack cocaine with the same humanity, kindness, and understanding we offer the white Washington DC executive addicted to prescription drugs originally prescribed for a knee injury. We need to encourage our political representatives to pass laws that view addiction as a medical issue and treat it accordingly. We can provide affordable mental health services for those that need them. Lastly, we can educate our youth, on the dangers of sampling addictive drugs.

As individuals, we can tackle the problem, one person at a time. We need to be wary of the signs of addiction in our friends, family members, co-workers, and associates and be ready to provide them with the support and encouragement they need to seek treatment. It is only by raising the issue as both a personal and societal issue, that we will be able to cure America of this horrible disease.