Friday, November 1, 2013

Letter from a recovering addict

I received this letter from a Boston attorney who has been in recovery for many years and experienced the devastation that his addiction had on his health, family and firm.

Representative Hunt:

Thank you for taking the time to meet with me to discuss the substance abuse problem facing us as a country, as a state, as families and as individuals who are suffering. This is such an enormous problem, yet I do not think it has ever received the type of thoughtful response it deserves.  

This problem causes such great pain for the individuals and families affected. This pain alone should more than justify and all-out effort to treat the problem as the public health epidemic that it is. Unfortunately, such great misunderstanding exists among a large percentage of the electorate and their representatives as to the nature of this mental illness, and it is a form of mental illness, that overcoming this is a tall order.  

Once addicted to drugs or alcohol (or both), the sufferer is truly unable to stop. Even worse, the mental obsession to continue to use, coupled with the physical compulsion to use, leads many addicts and alcoholics to engage in behavior that is, at best, self-destructive (i.e., neglect of health, work and family) and, at worse, truly sociopathic (i.e., theft, robbery, rape and murder).

All of these negative behaviors have a societal cost associated with them. It saddens me that the pain inflicted upon the suffering addicts and alcoholics is not reason enough to put significant resources, commensurate with the scope of the problem, into combatting addiction. If the disease were better understood, I believe this might be different. I do not hold out great hope for this happening, but I will, God willing, spend the rest of my life educating anyone willing to listen.

Perhaps, the best way to get this problem the resources devoted to it that it surely justifies is to quantify the costs in dollars.

Most large business organizations, unions, and governments already see the value of devoting significant resources towards the rehabilitation of their employees. EAP (Employee Assistance Programs) exist at most large companies. The legal profession has LCL (Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers), a mandatory charge on every lawyer's yearly bar dues. I am aware of similar efforts in the medical and law enforcement (police) professions. Intelligent people see the value in saving lives, families and organizations from the ravages of addiction.

The problem is that this still leaves the vast majority of people without many real alternatives. Correctional facilities, although rife with illegal drugs and alcohol within their walls, seem to be society's answer to the problem. Many people do get sober (or clean) in prison, but this is hardly cost effective and the rehabilitation rates are abysmal--just look at the recidivism rates.

Treating people prior to their involvement in the criminal justice system, would be best. Diverting them into treatment after their involvement in the criminal justice system, but prior to incarceration, would be next. Treatment in prison should be a last resort, but is still worth the effort. Unfortunately, by the time prison is in the picture the sufferer has a reduced probability of getting into recovery.

Our courts, prisons, social service agencies, businesses, and individual families are spending enormous resources dealing with the after effects of alcoholism and drug addiction, with very little attention given to the alcoholic/addict. Get the sufferer into recovery and all those other problems go away. Society gains another productive member and the pain ends. This should be the goal.

Thank you again for your time and your efforts.

Bill