Long Ignored Public Health Emergencies of Addiction

What I am about to say, perhaps no one wants to hear or read, as it were. But, I would be perpetuating a fraud, to myself and to those communities, groups and individuals who not only want to say, but need to hear someone else say these words. So, this goes out to the strong-minded, self-assured and empathetic souls who  aren’t threatened by hearing someone speak their truths-share their realities and speak their mind.

To further preface this conversation, the words expressed here do not in any way represent the words of a divisive, angry, prejudiced or a hypocrite’s cry. This is merely an example of what it means to ‘broaden’ one’s cultural lens, and not reject an experience, view or belief of others who may not relate to life as it is lived by another.

When the black and Latinx communities were under siege by the heroin and crack cocaine epidemic, the  nation sat back and either let it happen or criminalized the addictive behaviors due to people’s need, far beyond desire, for a ‘fix’ or a ‘hit’ of these drugs. When otherwise good and honest people were ‘jones-ing’ for psychological and physiological relief,  we blamed the victim.bench-man-person-night.jpg

Oddly enough, they weren’t responsible for the influx of these drugs into their communities. They were strategically and purposefully trafficked into these areas to silence and disarm any and all activism of the people. But they bore the brunt of blame and we let it happen. We maligned and imprisoned folk.

We crippled whole communities, disrupted and destroyed families and we traumatized their children.  They were taken away from parents, who were considered unfit or criminals and as a result, innocent kids entered the child welfare system-and into another type of imprisonment themselves.

Where was the help, support, the ‘disease’ model or social policy change? Compassion, empathy, humanity? Was this considered a national health emergency? Not in the least. The attitude of the nation was….NIMBY!!![not in my backyard] We trapped people in their own neighborhoods. We continued to divest, and then it became easier to mis-educate the children.

After all, it is the children who suffer most. Once again, that didn’t appear to concern us. By a purposeful, and largely successful, mission to cripple and silence a people, we also were crippling children, who hadn’t yet identified their purpose or the potential power of their voices.

Meanwhile, as these communities were more and more disenfranchised, under-resourced, under-served, youth were incredibly under-educated. No one cared about that which was obvious. We had a hand in shaping their reality, and what we witnessed on our nightly news was as a result of our actions or failure to act. We thus began to see very few outspoken persons who advocated collectively. We put them to sleep and that worked just fine.

grayscale photo of woman covering her mouth using her hands
Over the past 15 years, white communities across our nation have been devastated by increasing prescription and illicit opioid abuse, addiction, and overdose. In 2016, over 11 million Americans misused prescription opioids, nearly 1 million used heroin, and 2.1 million had an opioid use disorder due to prescription opioids or heroin. Since 2013, the introduction of illegally produced fentanyl has made the problem worse.

For prescription drugs, the availability was ever plentiful. All one needed to do was be white and visit a favorite medical doctor. Occasionally, hospitalizations precipitated this addiction. It began as physiological in nature. Genuine pain-bodily. But does that mean that people in the poorer communities were not in pain too? A different type of pain that didn’t require an injury or surgery, but that which one could only wish would cease to bother their minds. Their heads were hurting, from the inside. Souls were in turmoil.

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opiod numbers

Dreams were deferred and destroyed. Hope was all but gone, withering away due to life as a minority in a system that had no respect, regard and without any remorse for them or their children. The system worked for them, and that was all that really mattered. Everyone knew it; everyone felt it; everyone saw it; pains of a systemic sort.

That is not to say that in suburbia, there was nobody experiencing psychological pain. The pains felt were not economical to the extent that basic life needs were continuously negotiated and prioritized on a level incomprehensible to most. Their pains were certainly  not brought on because of skin color or name. These were pains amidst what some would consider ‘excess’, privilege and extreme comforts.

Abuse, neglect, food insecurity, unemployment, ageism, misogyny, and others exist across the board. Coping skills are only as sophisticated as that which we are either taught directly, vicariously or by happenstance. The coping skills which manifest as central to our ability to engage resilience and continue along a defined journey into being.

As we seek solutions in the national fight against opioids and other illegal substances, SAMHSA’s[Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration] latest press release stated that the agency looks forward to continuing its role in helping American communities through evidence-based programs in prevention, treatment, and recovery services on behalf of all who have suffered the effects of opioid addiction.

HHS[Health and Human Services] is implementing five specific strategies that are guiding SAMHSA’s response. The comprehensive, evidenced-based Opioid Strategy aims to:

  • Improve access to treatment and recovery services to prevent the health, social, and economic consequences associated with opioid addiction and to enable individuals to achieve long-term recovery;
  • Target the availability and distribution of these drugs, and ensure the broad provision of overdose-reversing drugs to save lives;
  • Strengthen public health data reporting and collection to improve the timeliness and specificity of data and to inform a real-time public health response as the epidemic evolves;
  • Support cutting-edge research that advances our understanding of pain and addiction, leads to the development of new treatments, and identifies effective public health interventions to reduce opioid-related health harms; and
  • Advance the practice of pain management to enable access to high-quality, evidence-based pain care that reduces the burden of pain for individuals, families, and society while also reducing the inappropriate use of opioids and opioid-related harms.

We shall see how the nation, as a whole, recovers from the persistent menace  called ‘drug addiction’, a recognized crippling, life-destroying, family disruptive, community compromising temporary ‘cure’ for unmet needs, unspoken and unacknowledged anger felt by millions. People, we need a national intervention! Doctors, clinicians and behavioral health practitioners, step up to the plate! Use your voices, training and your skills to engage us in a collective catharsis.

We need a breakthrough! The pain is killing people all around us! 911 emergencies are for psychological pain, too! If you, too, are in pain, please seek help!


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