* Jim, a 60 year-old smoker since his teen years, discovers he has lung cancer.
* 240 pound Samantha, a 40 year-old self-professed glutton, discovers she has type 1 diabetes.
* Mike, a sedentary twenty-five year-old with high cholesterol, discovers he has heart disease.
* Fred, a fifty-year old alcoholic who also suffers from anxiety problems, discovers he has cirrhosis of the liver.
* Thirty-five year-old divorcee Carmen, a single mother of three young children who is dependent on welfare and child support, discovers she is addicted to prescription pain medication.
What's Your Index of Loving Sensitivity?
Terrible diseases cause great pain, misery, and premature death. Medical science works overtime to discover causes and find new, effective treatments to fight these killer illnesses. We, the public, despair over friends and relatives who contract cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and liver problems. These common diseases typically evoke feelings of sympathy from others, especially those who believe that mercy can help the healing process.
Even though I know this exercise proves very little, if you had to rate Jim, Samantha, and the others in the fictional group above on your own scale of empathy from 1-5 (1 = the person for whom you feel the most loving sensitivity and 5 = the person for whom you feel the least), how would you rank the patients?
I firmly believe most people would rank Carmen #5. Why? Many do not consider drug addiction to be a disease. Instead, they believe drug abuse and dependency are just matters of personal choice and moral weakness. Much of the public find drug addicts to be irresponsible, reckless, selfish and troubled, so they label them as unacceptable burdens.
The people who refuse to believe addicts deserve help for their disease think that whether someone is addicted to rx opioids, heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, or any other substance, the addict deserves the horrible consequences he or she suffers. In fact, some take a perverted pleasure in pronouncing themselves and their loved ones to be above such immoral behavior and may even delight in witnessing the self-destruction of those they consider to be ugly refuse.
Today I ask you to consider that an addict is truly diseased and needs professional medical help. I ask you to lay aside your contempt of people who become dependent and addicted, and, instead, heap any constructive hatred you may feel on the forces in society that cause addiction and perpetuate its evil hold. In other words, I ask you to hate the bad personal choices people make and hate the broken system, but do not hate the people who suffer from the disease of drug addiction. They need your support, and it can begin with a new attitude about drug abuse.
Yes, drug use is a choice. It’s free-will to pick up a substance and ingest it, but couldn't we, as a society, take the same insane hard line on those who choose to engage in smoking, overeating, lethargy, or drinking an alcoholic beverage? I fail to see large numbers of people who despise those who have chosen risky behaviors that likely contributed to their cancer, diabetes, or heart and liver disease. I do not hate those unfortunate people who become ill. I hope all receive the best possible treatments to overcome their afflictions.
For a long time, our society has stigmatized drug use and addiction, negatively judging people with drug problems. The National Institute on Drug Abuse science shows that addiction is a disease, just as cancer and diabetes are diseases. It’s not just that the person chooses to take drugs. In fact, an addicted person no longer chooses to take drugs—rather, their brains have been altered by drugs to the point where free will has been cruelly “hijacked,” and the desire to seek and use drugs is beyond their control.
Addiction is a disease of the brain that manifests itself in compulsive behaviors. Helping people understand this sad truth may lead to more support for those battling addiction.
More than 22 million Americans age 12 and older - nearly 9% of the U.S. population - use illegal drugs, according to the government’s 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. And, more than 23 million Americans age 12 and older needed some sort of treatment for drug or alcohol use problems, according to the study. But only 2.6 million people got that treatment. Of the people who didn’t get treatment, most indicated in the survey that they did not feel they need it.
We are paying an astronomical price for the disease of drug abuse -- illness, death, crime, joblessness, poor productivity. Misery is out of control. Do we want to ignore people with substance abuse, or do we recognize our duty to help this diseased segment of our society?
In my opinion, we must invest in prevention, intervention, and treatment. To sit back and vilify substance abusers only makes a bad situation worse. Let's give those who suffer from this disease the help they need to survive. Isn't that the same attitude you would take toward a cancer patient despite the circumstances of contraction?
“Unlike other diseases, we do little to effectively prevent
and reduce risky use, and the vast majority of people
in need of addiction treatment do not receive anything
that approximates evidence-based care."
--Drew Altman, chairman of an addiction treatment commission
at the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (2012)