SO FAR SO GOOD :MAYOR WALSH’s ALL OUT FIGHT AGAINSTSUBSTANCE ABUSE

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^ it’s personal to him ; Mayor Walsh goes all out against substance abuse in the city

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If there’s one thing that newly installed Mayor Marty Walsh is doing really, really right, it’s his all-out attack on the scourge of substance abuse. A new policy paper issued by Walsh’s office tells the whole story, in this link :

http://next.cityofboston.gov/post/84249639798/improving-addiction-and-recovery-services

It’s hardly a new issue for Walsh. It is personal for him. He himself is a recovered substance abuser, and, at the very first “Mondays With Marty” that I attended, way back in mid-summer of his Mayor campaign, he made a statement that stuck with me : “there is heroin epidemic in Boston .”

I believed him because he had seen it.

We all know that substance abuse threatens to overwhelm communities; to snuff out many, many lives; to disable many more; to make employment difficult and family life all but impossible; and, thus, to over-burden the state’s already overtaxed DCF agency.

Make no mistake : you don’t like how DCF has been doing its job ? Then do something about our State’s substance abuse epidemic. Because until that wave is conquered, DCf will have far more families to intervene with than it can handle on the best of days.

Mayor Walsh has taken several worthy steps, as set forth in the link above, including equipping all first responders with the overdose antidote known as Narcan; holding drug abuse forums in neighborhoods across the city; and sponsoring take-backs of expired medicines. all that is needed now is for the public to know about them. Very few people attended a recent substance abuse forum in Jackson Square that I was at, and the people who did attend seemed more community activists than abusers or family members of abusers.

the people who need to be reached don’t easily come go substance abuse forums…

Still, the push back against substance abuse has started now. To that push I would recommend to Mayor Walsh the following initiatives :

1.make sure that substance abuse info forums are well publicized, on social media and with copious fliers at street level

2.co-ordinate with DCF, so that the families most impacted by substance abuse can receive help from city health workers as well as from DCF people

3.just as Mayor Kevin White hired Youth Workers, to meet with youth in socially vulnerable neighborhoods and support them, hire neighborhood workers specific briefed to intervene in the lives of drug abusers and their families — it being as much a public health problem as a public safety issue

4.co-ordinate all these efforts with the City’s public school staffs.

5.expand, promote, and support city sports programs. it’s my experience that kids involved in sports are less likely to take a bad path

6.because substance abuse isn’t only a youth issue — many abusers are 25 to 40 years old, co-ordinate intervention and outreach initiatives with neighborhood health centers, churches and mosques, community houses, and gyms.

7.Regularly convene meetings of the top staffs of all the institutions and organizations I’ve mentioned, to exchange ideas and to report both progress and failures.

Winning the fight against substance abuse will take many, many years of all-out commitment by many, many organizations as well as concerned citizens. I probably shouldn’t even say ‘winning,’ because the problem is world wide and cannot be extinguished by efforts merely local. But a sustained and ubiquitous local effort can definitely cut the substance abuse epidemic way, way back within one committed city.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

THE WAY HOME : EXITING SUBSTANCE ABUSE, PART 1

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FIRST STEP : TOWARDS A CULTURE OF TREATMENT, NOT PUNISHMENT

We see them on a daily basis — the disheveled, homeless person wandering the streets. For most of us, a first reaction to seeing our fellow human being in such a state is, “what set of circumstances brings a person to this condition?”

Or, “I have heard that this is a lifestyle choice. But why would anyone willing choose to live this way? “

This to many of us is the face of addiction and alcoholism.

Living on the streets and not seeking shelter is a choice often made by those who use drugs or alcohol.   Most shelters turn away people seen to be under the influence; yet to those who continue to “use,” enduring the perils of nature and dangers of living on the street is a price worth paying .

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, those who estimate the cost of drug and alcohol abuse peg it at over $600 billion annually.  Breaking this huge amount down, we find $ 193 billion spent for illicit drugs, the same amount for tobacco, and $235 billion for alcohol.  From these immense dollar totals alone, we can conclude that substance abuse is not limited only to unfortunate men and women living on the margins of our society.

About drug and alcohol abuse, the National Criminal Justice Reference Service states this:

“Many Americans believe that drug abuse is not their problem. They have misconceptions that drug users belong to a segment of society different from their own, or that drug abuse is remote from their environment. They are wrong. Almost three quarters of drug users are employed.

“A majority of Americans believes that drug use and drug-related crime are among our nation’s most pressing social problems. Indeed, about 45 percent of Americans actually know someone with a substance abuse problem.”

Imprisonment dogs the substance abuser in America. Our nation’s Bureau of Justice Statistics indicates that the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the free world.  We imprison 743 of every 100,000, compared to 96 out of 100,000 in England and Wales and 71 per 100,000 in France.  The Center for Economic Policy Research says that 60 percent of all US prisoners are incarcerated for non-violent crimes.

Much of that 60 percent goes to prison for relatively minor crimes – because “three strikes” laws require lengthy mandatory minimum sentencing no matter what..

A criminal-system response  to the disease of addiction arises from our society’s perception that substance abuse is a moral failing rather than a medical condition.  By no means am I suggesting not holding people accountable for their actions. But accountability in the case of substance abuse should emphasize treatment and recovery.

The cost to our society  of substance abuse goes well beyond dollar figures.   Those afflicted with drug problems fill our emergency rooms, kill people through accidents and contribute towards violent crime.  Violence often arises from the intoxicating effects of drugs and alcohol.

We need to seek out and find alternatives to the familiar but wasteful, crime and punishment approach toward the scourge that substance abuse puts upon our civil society.  We do not punish people with diabetes, lactose intolerance or cancer.  We treat them.   Addiction is recognized as a mental illness, and often, in some cases it is a combination of both mental and physical ailments..

There are many collaborative efforts being forged to create a culture of treatment for drug abuse as a  chronic condition rather than one of punishment.   In upcoming blogs I hope to highlight and bring attention to those who are pursuing this course.

— John Shea III / The Way Home