“I wish they would all die!” (by Mike Orrill)
“I wish they would all die!”  That’s what an angry friend once said to me when told him I was working with people struggling with drug addiction. “I just wish they would all die!  They made their bed, so let them sleep in it.  They’re a drain on society and don’t offer anything worthwhile. They don’t deserve to live.”  He was particularly upset that I was training people how to use the anti-overdose medicine Narcan and distributing it to those who needed it. However, considering that around 100,000 people in the U.S. died of a drug overdose in 2021, it seems to me that such a small harm-reduction strategy is a “no-brainer”.

The root of such stigmatizing statements as my friend made is a misunderstanding of what addiction is and is not. Once, addiction was considered a moral failure, a character flaw, or even a sin.  An addicted person was given names such as junkie, druggie, stoner and dope-whore, and the preferred method of dealing with them was rejection and/or punishment.

We now know that addiction is a complicated chronic, relapsing brain disease that changes how the brain works. It even alters the brain’s physical structures—such as the prefrontal cortex—where decisions are made.

Whether it be prescription meds, heroin, meth or some other substance, author Fran Smith points out correctly that “addiction remolds neural circuits to assign supreme value to cocaine or heroin or gin, at the expense of other interests such as health, work, family or life itself.” For those who struggle with addiction, it’s like their brain has been hijacked.

Addiction has many causes: genetics, using at an early age, the type of drug, trauma, but however one is hijacked, what is needed is not more stigma, judgment and condemnation but compassion, understanding and action.

Let’s stop the stigma and send a strong message that when someone is ready there is help available and hope for recovery.

Click here for stories of addiction and recovery http://liftthelabel.org/stories/