Friday, February 7, 2014

The Way we see Addiction (Warning: rant ahead)

I recently came across an article that I felt I needed to share on Facebook. 
It was a piece on the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, written by Russell Brand and published in The Guardian.

Mr. Brand argues that Mr. Hoffman was a victim of 'extremely stupid' drug laws. 
He says,

"Addiction is a mental illness around which there is a great deal of confusion, which is hugely exacerbated by the laws that criminalise drug addicts."

He points out that by making drugs illegal we make drug users criminals. That no self-respecting drug user is going to be deterred by prohibition. That our culture does not know how to treat drug addicts.

You can read the article for yourself here.

I shared this (in my opinion) wonderful article as I felt it provided an important look at addiction from the non-judgemental side. 

A FB friend of mine added a comment that made me quite angry.

"He is dead cause he is a Junkie looking for the ultimate high! ...if he wasn't famous, there would be no story; just another Junkie"

Since everyone is entitled to their own opinion, I posted a respectful response but I felt I still needed to vent a little.

The joys of having a blog. 
Feel free to stop reading here if you prefer the lighter fare. 
I just need to get this off of my chest.

Let's start with some definitions.
(*They aren't properly referenced, don't tell any of my former professors)

1. Addiction (from CAMH) :

" The word “addiction” is often used to refer to any behaviour that is out of control in some way. People often describe themselves as being addicted to, for example, a TV show or shopping. The word is also used to explain the experience of withdrawal when a substance or behaviour is stopped (e.g., “I must be addicted to coffee: I get a headache when I don’t have my cup in the morning”).
However, experiencing enjoyment or going through withdrawal do not in themselves mean a person has an addiction.
Because the term “addiction” is commonly used in such a vague way, there have been many attempts to define it more clearly. One simple way of describing addiction is the presence of the 4 Cs:
    • craving
    • loss of control of amount or frequency of use 
    • compulsion to use
    • use despite consequences. "

    2. Deserving (from 


    qualified for or having a claim to reward, assistance, etc., because of one's actions, 
    qualities, or situation: the deserving poor; a deserving applicant.
    meriting; worthy: a criminal deserving of a lifetime sentence.

    3. Undeserving (from :
    — adjective
    not earned or merited; unwarranted: an undeserved reputation

    Have you ever heard the phrase 'deserving' vs 'undeserving' used with respect to health care?
    In case you haven't, let me give you an example.

    I work with people living with HIV/AIDS.
    When the disease first made its appearance, there were two broad categories someone with HIV/AIDS could fall into based on how you acquired the virus.
    If you were a haemophiliac and became infected due to a HIV+ blood transfusion, or you were born to an HIV+ mother, guess what? You won the sympathy game. You were deserving of treatment and people's support.
    If you were an injection drug user or a gay man, guess what? You asked for it. You brought it on yourself. You were undeserving of the sympathy, you should have been smarter.

    Unfortunately this mentality still exists.

    You're addicted to alcohol/cocaine/heroin/methamphetamines/prescription pills/etc?
    Just stop using them.
    Check yourself into rehab.
    Get clean for your husband/wife/children/family.
    Smarten up.

    Simple, right?

    Not so much.

    The reasons that people start using drugs (I'll use this term broadly to include all drugs and alcohol) are numerous.
    Some people use drugs to manage their pain (I have). Some people use drugs because it makes them feel better about themselves, whether because they are shy or because they have a mental health issue like depression or schizophrenia. 

    Some of the client's I've worked with have suffered through horrible abuse. 
    How many of them have been told they are just another junkie, looking for that ultimate high? How many times have they been brushed off, not taken seriously, stigmatized because they have an addiction?

    What if you had grown up in a household where you were sexually and emotionally abused by the people who were supposed to care for you? 

    What if the only way to escape that pain, physical and mental, was to numb yourself with drugs?

    Seems like these people might deserve our support, right?

    What if you tried drugs at a party with your friends and you really liked the way it made you feel?

    And what if you kept using those drugs because suddenly you were confident and liked yourself? 

    Are these people selfish and undeserving of our support?

    You'd be more likely to help and support the man who broke his leg or the man who has cancer than the man who has overdosed, right?
    The man with cancer didn't ask for it.

    There should be NO classification of the deserving and the undeserving, especially when it comes to who we help and support as a society.
    Everyone is deserving.

    "...if he wasn't famous, there would be no story"

    This is just about the only point in the Facebook comment that I agree with. 

    People die everyday from drug addiction and we don't talk about it. 
    We walk passed them on the street and toss coins at them or mutter "get a job" under our breath.
    Or we say what a shame, what a waste of a life.
    He threw it all away for drugs.

    Let's use Mr. Hoffman's fame to start talking about the way we see addiction.
    Let's use Corey Monteith's fame to generate discussion about why we stigmatize drug use.

    Why did it need to be reported that he was found with a needle still in his arm?
    Or with 70 bags of heroin around him?
    Does that help paint the picture for his friends, family, and fans that he was just another selfish addict who threw his life away to dirty, shameful drugs?

    I understand the argument for criminalizing drug use.
    I know that to legalize all or aspects of it is an ethical slippery slope.
    Personally, I'm an advocate for harm reduction. If I ask a client if they plan to use and they say yes my response is, "do you have clean supplies? Do you know how to use them safely?" 
    I don't expect everyone to share this view because I understand that not everyone sees drug use the way I do.
    Not everyone is going to sign petitions for a safe injection site in the city.
    I get it. 
    I do. 
    It's not a black and white issue. 
    Whether providing a safe location for supervised drug use is a way to decrease rates of HIV, Hep C, overdoses, and drug related violence or whether it is merely sanctioning and promoting dangerous habits - this is a great debate and I encourage people to learn more and talk about it.

    But let's not allow our personal beliefs to influence how we support someone with addiction.

    I would personally never touch most drugs but does that mean I'm going to judge someone who does?
    Not a chance.

    I've seen people try to get clean. 
    I've seen successes and relapses.
    I'll tell you this: it's not easy.

    These people aren't just giving up a hobby or a fun weekend. They often have to leave where they live, and cut entire groups of friends and acquaintances out of their lives. 

    Then what are they left with?

    Where is their support network?

    That's why we need more programs and more resources and more education.
    We need to stop seeing drug users as criminals, bad people, degenerates.

    They are just as deserving of care and compassion, whether they are ready to seek help or not.

    "Just another junkie" ?

    He was a human being who wasn't perfect, just like everyone else on the planet.

    How dare you.

    If you or anyone you know has addiction issues or you'd like more information, please visit any of these links:

    The Centre for Addiction & Mental Health website
    The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse website
    The Addiction Canada website

    No comments:

    Post a Comment