This past week I attended an event to discuss the current state of addiction and overdose in our community. A panelist of providers from many different facets of addiction treatment shared their thoughts and experiences. The focus was on the recent increase in K2 use and heroin/opiate overdose. K2 is a synthetic drug now being sold in convenience stores and at times mixed with other over-the-counter medications. The current form of the drug is causing people to become violent, psychotic, and aggressive. The heroin being sold now is being mixed with things like Tylenol and Benadryl, creating a mix so strong that Naloxone (an overdose reversal agent) is becoming nearly ineffective.
Coupled with this event it seems there have been more reported overdoses than usual these past few weeks. I wake up each morning and notice the multiplying “RIP”s in my Facebook feed. It’s heartbreaking. People have thrown around many suggestions on how to change this. Some want to go after the drug suppliers, others want to protect at government agencies, and even others want to blame the people using the drugs.
The reality of this epidemic is that addiction is a disease, it’s not a choice. No one wakes up one day and thinks “I really want to get addicted to heroin today.” It’s a process that starts early, way before heroin is even used. It’s a process that involves certain brain cells taking over when triggered by any addictive substance. And unfortunately some of us are more prone to this process than others. We also have to remember that it’s not just drugs or alcohol. People become addicted to food, exercise, sex, gambling, etc. Again, it’s a brain process. When we blame the person that is addicted, we create shame. We create guilt. We give them a reason to feel like reaching out for treatment will only cause more judgment in their life. We can go after drug laws and suppliers all we want, but the problem lies in us as well. Every time we judge someone struggling with addiction we create more of a divide. Every time we say “oh they’re just a junkie”. we push them further from treatment and into their addiction. I’m not suggesting that we need to be the force behind recovery, but we do need to show some compassion and support. Addiction is not a choice, it’s a disease. We don’t judge and shame someone with diabetes or cancer. We shouldn’t judge a shame a disease of the brain.
And please remember, help is out there. If you or someone you love is considering treatment, don’t hesitate to reach out. And more importantly, if you or someone you love isn’t quite sure about treatment or may not be ready to get sober, reach out anyway. Sometimes it can be helpful just to talk about the options and have someone to support you in the process.