Ours is the business of heartbreak and hope.
Heartbreak when a family has lost their son to the disease of addiction. Hope when another is celebrating their daughter’s first year of recovery.
We’ve been working on this issue for close to 30 years, and it’s time to end the heartbreak. It’s time to break the silence and face our tangled history with substance abuse and treat it as the public health epidemic it is.
For too many, the silence has been deafening. It’s manifested in fear, frustration and shame. All because addiction is not treated like any other disease, but rather as a crime and a moral failing, treated with prison and lectures, rather than therapy and medicine.
One mother’s story illustrates this disparity in diseases. When diagnosed with breast cancer, her home was filled with family and friends, delivering cards and casseroles. Yet, when her son was struggling with addiction, there was silence. No one called. No one brought food. No one offered comfort and support.
Shunned and ashamed, families have had to take out a second or third mortgage on their homes, have received subpar care – care that they paid for – or watched their child fail out of college because there is no sober housing on campus. There is too little respect for their pain and too much judgment about where they went wrong.
How many families will have to bury a child before we change the way America treats those who care for a loved one with a substance use disorder? How many families will make the heart-wrenching decision to call the police on their own daughter because it is the only way they can get her a treatment bed? How many communities will succumb to substance abuse because funding support for prevention programs has been slashed?
Addiction affects not just the person addicted, but entire families and communities, crossing all social and economic boundaries. Yet, we do not discuss its devastating reach or the few resources we have to address it. Family, friends, neighbors and colleagues are among the 85 million Americans affected by addiction; and its effects are born out in both economic and human costs.
The estimated financial cost of substance abuse in America is $417 billion dollars a year related to crime, lost work productivity and health care. These costs include the 4.6 million drug-related emergency department visits, of which 50 percent are linked to prescription drug abuse or misuse. The human cost? It is almost too much to bear. Forty-four Americans die each day of prescription painkiller overdoses – that’s 16,060 people a year – making substance abuse the leading cause of accidental death in our country.
This October marks a critical time in our nation’s history, with thousands gathering in Washington, D.C. for the first-ever event of its kind, UNITE to Face Addiction, and with advocacy around new legislation, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA). This bipartisan bill offers very real and effective solutions that can impact the way we address, treat and advocate around substance use disorders. It tackles head on the issues of jail time and public health and safety, necessary if we are going to embrace genuine and lasting change.
Let’s work to bring awareness to and transformation around addiction. This can be the day the silence and heartbreak of addiction ends, and hope begins.
Marcia Lee Taylor
President and CEO
Partnership for Drug-Free Kids