Let’s Start Talking About the REAL Reasons Americans Abuse Opiates

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Although there have been many valid explanations for why we have an opiate epidemic on our Drug-Warring hands, I have not yet heard anyone mention what the primary reason actually is, so I’ll tell you what it is:

It’s Pain.

And I’m not talking just about the physical kind – I’m talking about the mental and financial and social kinds of pain which are more devastating than physical pain. The vast increase in prescribing opiates is certainly a big driver of the crisis, but many people take opiates for the duration of an illness or injury and then stop taking them. They don’t become addicts; but a lot of other people can’t get off them ever again.

I had the dubious benefit of “attending” court-ordered drug treatment (in my case it was for alcohol) in my Southern state. I took careful notice of the people I met and spoke with in both jail and treatment, and I was shocked to hear the stories they told about their lives. Absolutely every woman was a survivor of some kind of repeated sexual assault, sexual abuse (by a family member, caretaker, or significant other), violent trauma, total estrangement, or sexual exploitation. Most were mentally ill. All were very poor and underserved if not completely unserved, because of the many institutional system failures in America.

Most people got locked up on paraphernalia charges, theft under $500, probation violation, and/or insolvency.  The people in treatment with me (some of whom I also met in jail) were suffering from some of the worst life experiences and situations I’ve ever heard of. Even though some people exaggerate for sympathy, if you have to drag someone’s tale out of them after laying groundwork over weeks in stir or in group therapy, they are not making that shit up.

In jail, I slowly got to know another woman there who finally told me she was a “trick baby” and didn’t even know what ethnicity she was. (Asian? Native American?) She was also epileptic, mostly deaf, an addict, and a member of the hidden homeless. These are the “precariously housed” meaning, at least for her, that she had to submit to sex to crash on various guys’ couches. She complained in her innocent way that what she hated most was always having guys “bothering” her when she just needs a place to sleep other than her car.

Every human has a breaking point when they will seek out ANY relief from unbearable pain, and everybody has a finite amount of resources to battle it.

Speaking of the deaf and/or developmentally disabled, I met a surprising number of people with these problems, and all of them had resorted to substance abuse to numb the pain of deep isolation, the resulting poverty, and repeated victimization.  The issues of substance abuse and police brutality are very real for the disabled and largely ignored as well. Almost half of all people killed by police are disabled and usually not in an immediately  visible way.

 

 

Baby steps, I guess.

The most punishable offense to many cops is lack of a prompt response, difficulty following or understanding orders, and perceived disrespect. Lots of cops are delicate, but thuggish, flowers who require deference and unquestioning obsequiousness at all times.

But back to our national love of getting high.

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I figured out that substance abuse is directly related to the degree of isolation and trauma a person has experienced, and the more you have suffered the less able you are to summon the considerable internal and external resources that are absolutely needed to heal from the severe issues at its root. Addiction is a symptom of other serious conditions. If you put someone in rehab or jail but don’t address the financial, familial, mental, social, housing, employment, and physical problems they have, you are setting that person up for relapse or death. 

Here’s a helpful TED Talk about why people (and other animals) develop maladaptive coping mechanisms when they suffer isolation and pain which reflects current evidence-based research. Our “moral” and “disease” models of addiction have at the very least been harmfully inaccurate.

By far, the worst thing about my entire odyssey was the degree of toxic shaming we were subjected to. Initially trying a drug is your fault because you chose to “make a bad decision” and break the law. You’ve sinned. Relapse is really, really your fault because you are supposed to know how to resist temptation with the (largely useless) advice they gave you about “avoiding triggers.” The 12 Steps used in most American treatment programs is outdated, ineffective, poorly studied, and loaded with negative, shaming attitudes and more bad advice. The addict is always solely to blame rather than the life conditions and intractable illnesses they deal with.

Here’s the bottom line: 

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Source here

Fifty percent of Americans in 2017 are struggling to pay for housing and having enough to pay for food and sundries.  A health care or car emergency can utterly wipe them out. These are people who take out loans for college and well into adulthood the jobs they studied for have simply not materialized. Their debt exceeds their assets. These are also people for whom the dismantling of the mental health system by Reagan has left them without a place to get help and has simultaneously criminalized the sick, the poor, and the different.

I could go on.  Things have been getting worse for average Americans so gradually that we didn’t realize we were being cooked alive and quietly robbed of more and more of our rights and political agency. The labor unions were broken, the push for women’s rights stalled, and anyone requiring social entitlements was demonized. What we DON’T need is more tough love, shame, religious censure, and socially conservative policies.

What we DO need is:

  • MAT (medically assisted treatment)
  • nonjudgmental, sympathetic counseling that addresses the specific reasons women and all other predominantly non-violent offenders (men, the disabled, LBGTQs, POC) end up in the system
  • comprehensive mental and physical healthcare (good luck on that one, I guess)
  • the 12 Steps replaced with a recovery philosophy that uses evidence-based methods rather than faith-based ones
  • safe rental housing we can afford
  • better jobs that pay enough to live on
  • an end to the Drug War and the decriminalization, Portugal-style, of personal substance possession and use
  • forgiveness of past non-violent drug-related offenses or at least removal from background checks so to prevent the stigma that leads to un- and under-employment (and relapse)
  • prompt, free legal help that doesn’t suck or favor domestic abusers
  • childcare and community supports
  • better treatments for chronic pain

Tall order, am I right? This is true:

Every human has a breaking point when they will seek out ANY relief from unbearable pain, and everybody has a finite amount of resources to battle it. Even the people who are “living the right way.” Thanks for being honest, Mo!

 

Woman of the Day: Olivia Benson

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The unthinkable happens and a bad man harms you. Never fear, Olivia’s here. If you live in New York, that is. Before you know it, a tall woman with the doe eyes of a movie star will tell you, unequivocally, that none of this was your fault and we are going after him like Leo goes after the Oscar. {Congrats Leo; you should’ve won for Gilbert Grape.} Your case will receive the utmost priority and Olivia will be at your beck and call with soothing sympathy and big-sister hugs. God, I love her. I wish Special Victims Units were a real thing that actually existed. I wish the process was as fast as a 42 minute show. I wish all dangerous people were prosecuted and put away the first time they are charged with a terrible crime.

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I think my monkey’s paw is defective.

But Olivia Benson is actually Mariska Hargitay. She’s an actress on a TV show. An awesome actress, but not a person you will ever see at the worst time of your life. Some grizzled cop with a drinking problem will take down your story and then ask a bunch of questions about drugs and alcohol. What were you doing out late, partying? Do you have a boyfriend? Why didn’t you fight him? Are you sure those marks weren’t self-inflicted? Huh? Why did you say goodbye after it was over if it wasn’t consensual? Why did you decide to go to work before you went to the police? Why aren’t you standing in the rain screaming at the cruel heavens?

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Simmer down, Leo!

And, for the most part, those guys will get away, go about their business, and never even see the inside of a jail or courtroom. Mostly because women (and men) know the cops won’t be sympathetic, or won’t believe you, or will actively protect the interests of the accused instead of the traumatized. Mostly because it’s hard to face the justice system and risk being torn apart again. Olivia Benson and the attractive, yet flawed warriors of SVU are a collective wish fulfilled. Much like Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing, SVU is a palliative that has reached many, many people, to assure us that sanity rules in these areas of life when the reality is far messier, discouraging.

In fact, Mariska tells of the shock she got when she began receiving direct letters from people who have seen the show. “I remember my breath going out of me when the first letter came, and I’ve gotten thousands like it since then. That these individuals would reveal something so intensely personal—often for the very first time—to someone they knew only as a character on television demonstrated to me how desperate they were to be heard, believed, supported, and healed,” says she on her site for the Joyful Heart Foundation.

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Providing spa retreats for rape counselors since 2004.

That’s what happens when you are the only show on TV that spotlights victims of exploitative and sexual crimes. No lie, victims don’t know where to go. In my city we have one state-sponsored rape crisis center that is very hard to find or call.  No Planned Parenthood and the nearest clinic to get any kind of abortion or free birth control is hundreds of miles away in every direction. The police are known to be sexually abusive to women. Not many rapes go to trial here, but they happen here a lot. Scores of exploited women go to jail, but the Johns and pimps don’t have any consequences.

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Not an empowered career choice.

So what do you do? You reach out to who you do see talking about a problem you have. Olivia Benson is a bit pushy sometimes, but she’s always understanding and patient. Cops are just pushy and usually male. Olivia is empowered to sling a rape kit right to a sympathetic ME for fast results. She can bully a perp into confession without so much as a request for a lawyer. She has no pesky paperwork to grind through. She can be on call all the time (before baby Noah came into there life, that is). No lawyers or obtuse officers succeed in stopping SVU from getting to the bottom of the truth.

Thanks for your years of service Olivia Benson.

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