Name: Amber Perez
From: Miami, FL
Coinciding, Not Isolating
When people think of drug addicts, they think of people who chose to ruin their lives with drugs. This notion could not be further from the truth. People who suffer from addiction start off just like anyone else until their entire lives revolve around taking the drug. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 19.7 Americans, 12 years old and older, were battling a substance use disorder in 2017. The American Addiction Centers found, in 2017, that 38% of adults were dealing with an addiction to illegal substances. These statistics show that this is an issue that spans far beyond the notion previously stated. It is not just illegal substances that are causing addiction, but legal drugs as well. The use of opioids has risen since the 1990s and, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 128 people died every day from an opioid overdose in 2018. If we want to end this epidemic, we need to understand how this impacts individuals and the country as a whole as well as provide the proper resources to live a life of sobriety that doesn’t involve isolation and punishment.
One individual’s addiction becomes a community’s addiction and, before you know it, it becomes a nation’s addiction. When people become addicted to a drug, their life soon becomes encapsulated by their addiction. People no longer attend work, people no longer see family or friends, and people no longer have a rational mindset. According to the Gateway Foundation, our country loses 49 billion dollars from missed workdays, 48 billion dollars from expenses dealing with incarceration, and 4 billion dollars in premature deaths. Although these statistics are alarming, statistics can never show how drug addiction can truly ruin someone’s life.
Nicole Dean Taylor is a YouTube personality who was known for her upbeat videos about the animals she had, but to the surprise of many fans, she was hiding something much darker: her drug addiction. Taylor had always been a people pleaser, so when she began to grow a following on the internet, she began to change things about herself to please those leaving negative comments. Nicole not only describes herself as a people pleaser, but also as someone who is heavily codependent. With the channel that she once loved becoming a negative environment for her, she turned to a negative relationship.
Within just a couple of months of dating her now ex-boyfriend, someone who was dealing with drug addiction himself, she became fully addicted to heroin. Her life was no longer filled with joy from her animals, friends, and family, but a life riddled with heartbreak and pain. She couldn’t stand watching the life she once had being destroyed right before her eyes, so she continued her drug abuse as a way to escape. There were so many times in which she reached out for help, but she was turned away. Her mother even told her that she was not allowed to come back home because she didn’t want to see her daughter destroying herself. It wasn’t until her assistant sent photos of Taylor’s bathroom covered in needles, blood, and cotton to her mother that she came to see her daughter. Taylor was soon taken to a rehab facility away from her toxic relationship where she found a community of people who understood her and wanted to help her.
For years, we understood addiction to be largely because of the addictive qualities of the drug, but we didn’t take into consideration the impact an environment had on an individual until the late 1970s with the “Rat Park” experiment. Professor Bruce K. Alexander conducted an experiment where he put two groups of rats in drastically separate environments. One group of rats were placed in complete isolation in standard cages and the other group of rats were placed in a giant open enclosure with the walls painted to look like the woodlands, with boxes to play in, with other rats to interact with, and with plenty of cedar shavings. This open enclosure was soon named “Rat Park.” Both of the rats had regular water and water that was mixed with sugar and morphine. Professor Bruce K. Alexander found that the rats in “Rat Park” were not taking the water with the morphine in it whereas the rats isolated were taking the water with morphine, showing that one’s environment impacts whether or not they are addicted to drugs.
The environment of the rats impacted rehabilitation as well. He gave both groups of rats the water with morphine for nine days straight until he gave them a day in which they decided whether or not they wanted to continue taking the morphine infused water or take the water without the morphine. The rats in “Rat Park” began to take less of the morphine drug, even when dealing with withdrawal symptoms. On the contrary, the rats that were isolated continued taking morphine, taking even larger doses than before. This experiment is far greater than rats in cages. This experiment shows how giving people dealing with addiction the same safe and healthy environment Taylor was able to surround herself in impacts one’s ability to live a life of sobriety and happiness.
The way our country deals with addiction is through punishment. The war on drugs has resulted in 1.3 million arrests per year in 2015 according to the Center for American Progress. Prison has not assisted in eliminating addiction; it has remained an issue. The National Center for Biotechnology Information followed inmates two months after they were released and found that they relapsed because of their poor social environment, they were exposed to drugs, they intentionally overdosed as a way to end their pain, and they looked for help by participating in treatment programs and reaching out to loved ones. Being imprisoned like those rats only causes more pain and suffering and, even when you leave prison, your sentence continues. It is very difficult to obtain a job once you are out of prison; therefore, it is difficult to make money and leave your toxic and self-destructive life behind you. Locking people away in isolation isn’t the way to assist people with their addiction. Instead, we need to provide healthy and safe environments.
It is not just changing the laws in regards to drugs that will assist those suffering from addiction, but also providing safe spaces for people to practice them. Supervised Injection Services have been debated for years, many seeing it as controversial because they believe that it will cause an influx in addicts due to them having a place to legally partake in their addiction. On the contrary, the data shows the complete opposite. The Ontario Hiv Treatment Network found that 75% of clients said that they changed their injection behaviors from attending this service, 23% of clients stopped injecting themselves by the end of the study, and 57% of clients entered some kind of addiction treatment program. Supervised Injection Services provide a safe space for people to partake in drugs and be monitored by professionals, which is much safer than them doing it elsewhere. These services also have proven to be effective in getting people off of these drugs as well as seek treatment.
The United States has been dealing with a drug epidemic for decades now and punishment and shame are not the answer. We need to provide a safe and healthy environment for people who are addicted to become sober and take their lives back. When you continue to shame and punish someone for their addiction, isolating them, they become trapped in cages. Their mind begins to tell them that the only way to stop their pain is by continuing their addiction. As a country, if we want to stop this epidemic, we need to stop isolating people and start coinciding with people.