Ability to trust and be trusted key to recovery from drug abuse

Thursday, June 29, 2006

By HARRY MARTIN

On Sunday, June 18, an individual in Speak Out complained about a running feature in your paper profiling drug addicts in recovery. It was titled "Glorifying addicts." This person questioned your motive and said "stop parading these reformed dope heads around as if they're model citizens." Four days later another Speak Out voiced complaint also (maybe the same person) saying that "drug addicts are losers, plain and simple." Sadly, these people probably represent the feelings of many of us, not totally excluding myself, and perhaps even caught some of us off guard; secure in our sanctimonious calm that social and medical advances for addiction are taking care of things OK.

I personally commend the Southeast Missourian for its efforts to promote and foster the progress of institutions dealing with a social problem that won't go away. But I think the problems are a little deeper and more fundamental, and I have two questions to address the negativity of these articles:

* Do people who think and perceive in simple terms like "winners and losers" actually contribute to the disease of addiction in this country?

* Could newspapers like the Southeast Missourian improve upon the educational content of articles designed to inform the public about addiction and still maintain the entertaining aspects they provide?

Here are my answers:

* Yes. This country was founded upon people who learned all they could about issues and developed a healthy value system in which the individual sacrifices for the good of the whole. Saying "drug addicts are losers" indicates an unconnected, shallow, unempathetic and socially unresponsible value out of step with our core values as a free society. Chronic complainers like this become part of the problem because they're dead weight waiting for others to initiate positive social change. Uninsightful people like to play the "Ain't it awful" game to reinforce their own insulation from corruption by those "losers" who "chose" to be that way.

The biggest assumption by those denying that drug addiction is a disease is that everyone simply has the same "free will." It seems to escape them that choice-making is a nurtured skill -- taught mostly by parents who work hard at it just as one would spend endless afternoons year after year to cultivate a little leaguer.

* Yes. Again using the early America metaphor, Thomas Paine in his "Common Sense" pamphlet printed truths about British rule people didn't want to hear. He took risks to inform and educate. In adopting more responsibility to increase public awareness, a newspaper could expound upon the brain chemistry of drug addiction, for example, which is essentially the same chemical process (on an exponential scale, of course) that gives us pleasure in getting lucky at a yard sale.

A newspaper could focus on the pains that 90 percent of drug and alcohol counselors in this country take to differentiate between spirituality and religion? The legalization of all drugs in this country would save billions of dollars with the neutralization of the black market; money that could be used to educate and rehabilitate rather than feed and house thousands in prison and pay for drug enforcement personnel. Sure the issue is controversial, but you'd be surprised how many big city police chiefs privately embrace the concept. As a society we indirectly pay millions of dollars for the salaries of alcohol advertisers, a drug that is statistically more destructive than marijuana.

Are these issues controversial? You bet. And tough issues like this are risky for small-town conservative America, especially newspaper publishers, but people would get to talking, debating, learning, and maybe be motivated to get involved -- strong core values in our culture that are evidently slipping as prison populations grow.

In my own short time working with recovering addicts I strive to help them learn to make better decisions and learn from past mistakes. I treat clients with respect as a human being in efforts to give them hope and confidence they may have never had in childhood, as well as illuminate and underscore new discoveries in research of the brain's ability to heal fast if and when a program of recovery is followed. The speed of recovery depends on them, of course, and with a healing brain comes a healing ability to trust and be trusted, a wonderful gift of being human.

Harry Martin is a Cape Girardeau resident.

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