Letter to the Editor: Bad news for recovering addicts

By Bethany Britton

President Trump declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency at the end of October and pledged: “We will overcome addiction in America.” Some of us who have struggled with addiction to other substances felt the declaration re-enforced the stigma associated with the wide range of substance use disorders recognized by the “Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders”, beyond opioid use disorder, that we are trying to break.

Further, President Trump’s current concerns about the opioid epidemic appear to be driven by the epidemic’s disproportionate impact on his political base — rural, white communities hit hard by economic stagnation.

Historically, this narrow approach of focusing on one type of substance has resulted in negative outcomes for other vulnerable populations that are addicted to substances viewed less favorably by the public. For example, more than 80 percent of the defendants sentenced for crack offenses are African-American, which resulted in African-American men being disproportionately jailed for drug crimes rather than receiving treatment.

During that same time period, law enforcement turned a blind eye toward white people who were addicted to powder cocaine. For these individuals, treatment was the preferred approach. Why? The empathy that’s being shown toward people addicted to opioids and their families should be extended to all people experiencing an addiction, regardless of the type of substance use disorder.

In general, the disease of addiction affects all walks of life and does not discriminate by substance. The only way to overcome and combat addiction in the U.S. is to treat the disease regardless of substance. As someone in recovery, I wish everyone understood that people with substance use disorders do not suffer from a moral deficiency, but rather a mental health disorder, regardless of their substance of choice or how they became addicted to it.

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Bethany is a graduate student in Social Work. 

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