Davis: A radical perspective
State and national politicians are scrambling to pass laws to try to stem the rising tide of opiate abuse in this country but their efforts may be akin to putting lipstick on a pig. Sure, more money for addiction treatment is a good thing and more programs to deal with addicts as people with an illness rather than as criminals also helps. But we need to look deeper.
No country will ever eliminate the problem of drug addiction. It is a problem as old as civilization. There will always be a certain segment of the population that is addicted to some substance, but when the numbers rise to high levels and overdose deaths become too much of an everyday event then society takes notice and tries to respond.
The question is how to best respond to an addiction epidemic. So far in this country we have responded by dealing with issues in the most superficial ways. It's almost like telling a patient with metastatic cancer that the best treatment is to take two aspirin and call the doctor when they feel worse.
This country needs to look at the reasons why people feel the need to become numb to the world around them. Why do they have to put themselves into escape mode more often than reality mode?
Until this country deals with the consequences of the widening gap between the have's and have not's we will never put much of a dent in the number of lives being ruined by opiates, including heroin. Socio-economic inequality is not the only issue driving the drug abuse epidemic, but it is one of the major issues.
The Institute for Policy Studies recently reported the following in The Nation magazine. Four hundred individuals in the U.S. have more combined wealth than the bottom 61 percent of the population. Twenty individuals in the U.S. have more combined wealth than the bottom half of the population. Ninety one percent of the nation's income growth from 2008 to 2011 went to the top 1 percent.
Consider this from the U.S. Census Bureau. "In 2014, the official poverty rate was 14.8 percent. There were 46.7 million people in poverty. Neither the poverty rate nor the number of people in poverty were statistically different from the 2013 estimates. The poverty rate in 2014 for children under age 18 was 21.1 percent. The poverty rate for people aged 18 to 64 was 13.5 percent, while the rate for people aged 65 and older was 10.0 percent. None of these poverty rates were statistically different from the 2013 estimates." They also note that the poverty rate has increased steadily since 2007.
The Census Bureau in 2014 considered the poverty level to be $15,379 for two people and $24,230 for a family of four. That means that at any given time in this country about one out of every six people is not making enough money to pay for basic things such as rent, food, heat and medicine. How many of you from a family of four reading this would be able to survive on $461 a week and pay all of your bills? Try it and let me know.
When you have to live a life in which every day is a struggle and you are one paycheck away from homelessness, or you are already homeless, the pain can be unbearable. The stress level is something that most of us will never experience.
You wake up in the morning and you go to work at your first job and then go right to your second job and get home at midnight some nights. You may only work two or three days a week because your bosses don't want to pay benefits. You hope your children have been OK on the long days because your husband has the same work routine.
Then you get laid off from one of your jobs and everything falls apart. You have to buy less food and you have to keep your apartment at 50 degrees in order to make your fuel assistance allotment last.
You talk to a friend who offers you way to feel a little better. She offers you a little powder to snort and you try it. You feel good and you forget about your troubles for a few hours. When you find out it only costs $10 to feel so good for the day you start buying less food for your family and buying more heroin for yourself. And then your family and your life start to fall apart.
It is scenarios like this that we must keep in mind if we are ever going to deal intelligently with a drug abuse epidemic. The gap between the have's and have not's is growing rapidly in this country and until we deal with the root causes of this issue the opiate epidemic will continue to grow.
Richard Davis is a registered nurse. He writes from Guilford and welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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