The media has a tendency to portray drug addiction as a vague issue. Coverage of the problem skews towards listing facts and figures, which ultimately provide little more than an overview of whether things are getting better or worse. There’s certainly a place for this kind of reporting; after all, how are we supposed to truly gauge the effectiveness of new initiatives and plans of action? However, sticking strictly to numbers doesn’t give the full story. Those who live with the problem of addiction everyday are more than just some statistics– they’re living, breathing humans who have struggles, fears, hopes, and interests just like anyone else.
Without “putting a face” on the issue, the public simply does not have enough information to have an educated opinion on drug addiction. It is one thing to understand that drug addiction is bad, but it is another thing entirely to have an idea about how to stop it. As such, people spout off judgmental vitriol about addiction, saying that overdose deaths are a form of “natural selection” or that anyone who is addicted is a “lowlife.” Perhaps these people are having a visceral and misguided reaction to this problem, which can affect anyone. But stigmatizing the people who suffer from addiction does nothing to stop it from happening, and can actually keep people from admitting they need help. No one wants to be judged in a negative light or viewed as “weak.”
Fortunately, people who have helped others recover from addiction are stepping forward in an effort to shatter the stigma and negative perception that some people hold about those who suffer from the disease. Cincinatti.com ran a hugely vital opinion piece recently that addressed this directly. Written by Scott Gehring, the CEO of an outpatient addiction treatment service, it sought to remind everyone that those afflicted with addiction are humans, and that these lives are just as valuable as anyone else’s. Furthermore, it emphasized that drug usage is often used as an escape from mental or physical pain, not as some form of recreation.
Those recovering from addiction are stepping up to talk about this, as well. The recent “Addiction in Appalachia” event held at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia brought ten people, all of whom have faced addiction, together to share their stories. Not only were the stories told to offer encouragement and support to those currently struggling with addiction, but also to express the pain felt by those recovering when they hear people who are uninformed spout off barbaric opinions about addiction.
Others in recovery have other issues regarding how addiction is portrayed. As a part of International Overdose Awareness Day in Worcester, Massachusetts, addicts in long-term recovery shared their stories, which included multiple overdoses, incarceration, and the decision to get clean. They served to punctuate the idea that while drug addiction is certainly an epidemic, is is not necessarily anything new, and that the increased attention towards it is due to its pervasiveness in suburban communities. To them, the increased response towards this issue is long overdue.
To be on the “outside looking in” at this issue means you can count yourself as lucky. However, it also means that you must take great care in trying to understand the whole of drug addiction before forming an opinion. As it stands now, too many people are still unaware of the nuances of addiction; they look at the facts and numbers and fail to recognize the human side of it. But, with those in recovery having the courage to share their story, we can hope that the public’s view of those suffering from addiction will become more empathetic.