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Monday, October 14, 2013

The Scioto Stigma Against Fighting Addiction: "Piss on the Junkies:

"Society imposes stigma - and its damage - on addicts and their families because many of us still believe that addiction is a character flaw or weakness that probably can't be cured. 

"The stigma against people with addictions is so deeply rooted that it continues even in the face of the scientific evidence that addiction is a treatable disease and even when we know people in our families and communities living wonderful lives in long-term recovery."

(David L. Rosenbloom, Ph.D. "Coping With the Stigma of Addiction." HBO. 2013)

In the last five years, Scioto County has made tremendous strides towards stopping a health epidemic by reducing the shocking number of residents addicted to substances. Without rehashing all of the statistics and the efforts of those committed to improving the health of our county, I want to clarify one belief I have.

I believe covering up a problem and attempting to hide reality is directly related to a stigma against those with addictions. I think a large segment of our community still remains indifferent to the disease of addiction and those who suffer from the disease because they don't believe addicts are "normal."

Instead, these disbelievers harbor the impression that only weak, low-class people become addicted. With this notion, they easily make an inductive leap to the conclusion that even talking about drug addiction in Scioto County is counterproductive discourse.

In truth, many more people feel justified contributing to causes that fight cancer or animal abuse than helping the cause against drug addiction. People openly extend sympathy and empathy as they aid a victim of fate or a victim of human cruelty. On the other hand, much of the public view the disease of addiction as a self-inflicted, well-deserved penalty for being an irresolute subhuman.

The stigma associated with addiction contributes to the development of narrow, closed minds. Since crime and lethargy are common symptoms of drug abuse, recovering addicts are often hamstrung. Due to past criminal records and questionable work experience, they have extreme difficulty finding employment, housing, and basic human kindness. Many carry the burden of a lifetime stereotype of being an undependable, dirty "druggie."

My concern with people who, for whatever reason, distance themselves from acknowledging drug problems we face here is that their alienation serves to perpetuate a bandwagon with an attitude that destroys new, successful approaches to reducing addiction. It is so much easier to be critical of change when alteration involves "getting your hands dirty." And, believe me, those on the front line of the fight know the old philosophy of treating addiction didn't work. To understand drug abuse, scientists, health workers, and counselors get "up close and personal" with those "druggies."

By opening the doors to public scrutiny and exposing the unsightly truth, warriors against abuse hope to save lives. Let me say that again. These people put 100% effort into saving human life. Period.

Saving the life of a person considered by many to be a "druggie," a "junkie," or a lowlife "user," is noble, passionate work. Many of these considered "despicable" by standards of society find that tough love and understanding are the catalysts they need to turn their lives around and stop doing drugs. Who can put a value on one life saved?

To be honest, the public is largely unaware that addiction strikes those across all economic, work, and social strata. The high profile addicts are long-time criminals who finally get caught by law enforcement. But, upper middle and high class residents -- doctors, judges, lawyers, CEO's, business owners, teachers, children -- do not receive headlines that announce their addictions. They fly under the radar in a community totally unaware of their disease. Oh, how many would change their views on stereotypes of dependents and addicts if they knew the truth. Addiction consumes the well-to-do, the social climbers, and the "respected" people, too.

To close, I believe the stigma must be eliminated to insure positive, lasting change. The stigma against people with addictions is ungrounded hatred fueled by stereotypes and half truths. Some would say, "Leave me alone. I don't feel comfortable doing anything for addicts. They deserve what they get because they feed their own addictions." And, I acknowledge a measure of truth in that response. However, the disease of drug abuse continues to exist as the killing fields of addiction are fertilized by the bodies of potentially productive, decent human beings.

To sit by and do nothing doesn't hurt, does it? Please read one of my favorite poems about facing history and facing ourselves. Take a few minutes to read and to digest "The Hangman" by Maurice Ogden. The strong message associated with indifference will be something you always remember.

The Hangman

by Maurice Ogden

Into our town the Hangman came,
Smelling of gold and blood and flame--
And he paced our bricks with a diffident air
And built his frame on the courthouse square.

The scaffold stood by the courthouse side,
Only as wide as the door was wide;
A frame as tall, or little more,
Than the capping sill of the courthouse door.

And we wondered, whenever we had the time,
Who the criminal, what the crime,
That Hangman judged with the yellow twist
Of knotted hemp in his busy fist.

And innocent though we were, with dread
We passed those eyes of buckshot lead;
Till one cried: “Hangman, who is he
For whom you raise the gallows-tree?”

Then a twinkle grew in the buckshot eye,
And he gave us a riddle instead of reply:
“He who serves me best,” said he,
“Shall earn the rope on the gallows-tree.”

And he stepped down, and laid his hand
On a man who came from another land.
And we breathed again, for another’s grief
At the Hangman’s hand was our relief.

And the gallows-frame on the courthouse lawn
By tomorrow’s sun would be struck and gone.
So we gave him way, and no one spoke,
Out of respect for his hangman’s cloak.

The next day’s sun looked mildly down
On roof and street in our quiet town
And, stark and black in the morning air,
The gallows-tree on the courthouse square.

And the Hangman stood at his usual stand
With the yellow hemp in his busy hand;
With his buckshot eye and his jaw like a pike 
And his air so knowing and businesslike.

And we cried: “Hangman, have you not done,
Yesterday, with the alien one?”
Then we fell silent, and stood amazed:
“Oh, not for him was the gallows raised…”

He laughed a laugh as he looked at us:
“…Did you think I’d gone to all this fuss
To hang one man? That’s a thing I do
To stretch the rope when the rope is new.”

Then one cried “Murderer!” One cried “Shame!”
And into our midst the Hangman came
To that man’s place. “Do you hold,” said he,
“With him that’s meant for the gallows-tree?”

And he laid his hand on that one’s arm,
And we shrank back in quick alarm,
And we gave him way, and no one spoke
Out of fear of his hangman’s cloak.

That night we saw with dread surprise
The Hangman’s scaffold had grown in size.
Fed by the blood beneath the chute
The gallows-tree had taken root;
Now as wide, or a little more,
Than the steps that led to the courthouse door,
As tall as the writing, or nearly as tall,
Halfway up on the courthouse wall.

The third he took – and we had all heard tell –
Was a usurer and infidel, And:
“What,” said the Hangman, “have you to do
With the gallows-bound, and he a Jew?”

And we cried out: “Is this one he
Who has served you well and faithfully?”
The Hangman smiled: “It’s a clever scheme
To try the strength of the gallows-beam.”

The fourth man’s dark, accusing song
Had scratched out comfort hard and long;
And “What concern,“ he gave us back,
“Have you for the doomed – the doomed and black?”

The fifth. The sixth. And we cried again:
“Hangman, Hangman, is this the man?”
“It’s a trick,” he said, “that we hangmen know
For easing the trap when the trap springs slow.”

And so we ceased and asked no more,
As the Hangman tallied his bloody score;
And sun by sun, and night by night,
The gallows grew to monstrous height.

The wings of the scaffold opened wide
Till they covered the square from side to side;
And the monster cross-beam, looking down,
Cast its shadow across the town.

Then through the town the Hangman came
And called in the empty streets my name.
And I looked at the gallows soaring tall
And thought: “There is no left at all
For hanging, and so he calls to me
To help him pull down the gallows-tree.”
And I went out with right good hope
To the Hangman’s tree and the Hangman’s rope.

He smiled at me as I came down
To the courthouse square through the silent town,
And supple and stretched in his busy hand
Was the yellow twist of them hempen strand.

And he whistled his tune as he tried the trap
And it sprang down with a ready snap –
And then with a smile of awful command
He laid his hand upon my hand.

“You tricked me, Hangman!” I shouted then,
“That your scaffold was built for other men….
And I no henchman of yours,” I cried.
“You lied to me, Hangman, foully lied!”

Then a twinkle grew in the buckshot eye:
“Lied to you? Tricked you?” he said, “Not I
For I answered straight and I told you true:
The scaffold was raised for none but you.

“For who has served me more faithfully
Than you with your coward’s hope?” said he,
“And where are the others that might have stood
Side by your side in the common good?”

      “Dead,” I whispered; and amiably
      “Murdered,” the Hangman corrected me;
      “First the alien, then the Jew… 

       I did no more than you let me do.” 

       Beneath the beam that blocked the sky,
       None had stood so alone as I –
       And the Hangman strapped me, and no voice there
       Cried “Stay!” for me in the empty square.

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