How many of you think drug addiction is a disease? Or do you consider it a moral failing? The product of a weak-willed person, someone with a poor constitution. What about alcoholism? Disease? Or another moral failing?
Our community lost a promising 23 y/o young man this month. I didn’t know him personally but he was part of my tribe, my community. I read his obituary and looked at what was probably his senior picture. Poster boy for good looks and clean-cut living. This death on the heels of another high-profile death in our community…the quarterback of a local football team, son of a former NFL player…dead as the result of a heroin overdose.
I’m tired of it. I’m tired of the ignorance of the rest of us. These are not bad people. These are not weak-willed human beings. These are sick people suffering from a disease. Alcoholism and drug addiction have long since been recognized by both the American Medical Association and the Supreme Court as a disease. By definition: a chronic, progressive and FATAL disease. Yet we as a society continue to treat the sufferers as lepers…criminals…outcasts.
Do we imprison our cancer sufferers? Do we shun the person with diabetes as someone who “just can’t handle his sugar”? No. But when it comes to drugs and alcohol, our social indifference kicks in and we stigmatize, we lock-out, we imprison. The United States has the largest prison population in the world and the overwhelming majority of these prisoners are addicts and alcoholics. Should we forgive their crimes because they are sick? Of course not, but we need to reevaluate what is a crime. Possession and under the influence penalties are ridiculous. Locking someone up for feeding their addiction is like busting the diabetic for possession of a Snickers bar. The criminal justice system is not the answer. Compassionate, accountable recovery is.
Until our society as a whole has the moral courage to recognize this for what it is…a disease, we will continue to mistreat it. And we will continue to kill our young. We are not exempt. You are not exempt. Jail does nothing to treat the underlying disease; it only manifests the problem and continues the lie.
So as you judge the alcoholic or addict next time, try to remember that they are suffering from a chronic, progressive and fatal DISEASE…if enough of us do this, perhaps it will save some lives, reform our prison system and finally begin to address the root problem. If not, we will continue to bury our young. This is not getting better folks…only worse.
RIP Aaron. I’m sorry we couldn’t help. Shame on all of us.