When I was a little girl, someone close to me went to prison for selling heroin.
I was seven.
When you look at the things that are on the list of childhood traumas, one of them is someone close to you going to prison.
It was traumatic.
When you’re a little child, the world is explained to you in simple terms.
“Drugs are bad. Bad people use drugs.”
If that is true, then this person I loved must be bad, right?
How do you reconcile that as a seven-year-old.
I had to ask myself questions that are beyond what a seven-year-old should ask.
Is this person I love “bad”? I love this person, so how can someone I love do something bad?
Over time, this issue reconciled itself into an answer I think many people that love drug addicts must say: I love this person, but they made (any many continue to make) a bad choice.
At work I was asked to look at data on the heroin epidemic.
In case you haven’t heard, there is a heroin epidemic across the United States. This isn’t happening in other cities, or just big cities. This is happening in your city, and it is happening in my city.
What makes this epidemic unique is that its increase spans across every demographic. Rich, poor, men, women, young and old. And it is killing people.
Forty-year-old mothers with children are dying. Twenty-year-old children are making funeral plans for their parents.
It’s easy just to label all drug addicts as idiots or stupid or just “bad” people. I mean, they are making the choice, right?
But if you know anything about addiction, you understand that addiction is incredibly complex.
People that are addicts are first and foremost people. They have families. They are mothers and daughters and sisters are brothers. They are not “other” people, they are people we know and care about.
Loving someone that is an addict is not easy. Most addicts don’t change overnight, and they make poor decisions that hurt a lot of people.
Yet the question remains, how are we going to make this better?
I don’t have any easy answers.
We need to cut the drug supply down. We need doctors to stop prescribing unnecessary pain medication, which is often the start of a future heroin addiction. We need to provide first responders with Narcan so we can stop people from dying. We need better interventions for folks once they come into the Emergency room, so we can give them treatment. We need better treatment for mental health patients, because mental health funding keeps getting cut everywhere. Addicts need to see that they have a problem, which is impacting their life and the lives of people they love. If you’re an addict, please find help.
And we need compassion and empathy.
These are not bad people. These are people we love that are making a bad choice. And if we refuse to help, and get help, its going to get worse.