The Plague of a Nation
Another young heroin addict died tonight. Most of the other residents of Pittsburgh didn’t know him by name; perhaps they knew his cheeky smile, or his bright eyes, but they didn’t know him. The neighbors weren’t there when he struggled through his younger days trying to find his way in the darkness, lost on a highway heading for Hell. No, the strangers wouldn’t have wanted to know him then.
Lonely days and sleepless nights were his master; he was a prisoner of shame and guilt. The poor boy just looked and stared, yet still was a stranger to himself. He didn’t know how to live, how to act, and he wanted to die. An awful thing, a young man wanting to die, not for his country, not as a hero, for war or peace. He wanted to end his young life to end his unbearable pain.
He did the only thing he could find to do to kill his pain, he plunged a spike deep into his vein and finally he found peace. A piercing of the flesh, a trickle of blood, and he would go into a slumbering nod to far- away places where no one could hurt him. Alone on the floor in a dark room his breathing shallow and forced, his skin growing colder as he nods and dreams of places he never remembers. The counselors told him that this would take his life, he didn’t care. He rolled the dice night after night, wagering his future and his family’s and his friends love. He had to know that “Snake eyes” was coming; no one rolls forever.
Years passed away, he stayed alive, it’s a mystery how? He settled down with a nice young lady; together they had two sons. He found religion and attended a local church on a regular basis, every Sunday without fail. He worked as a carpenter, made a good living, and supported his family. He even stopped using drugs for a few months; he was happy during that time.
He was a good father and a good mate to his girlfriend. His two young sons thought that the sun would rise and the moon set in their father’s eyes. They loved him as much as two boys could ever love their father. He had every reason to live a long, prosperous life, but that was not to be. Why do some addicts die from drugs and others get clean and sober? What is it that makes the difference in an addict’s life?
Is it a detox center, a treatment center, a counselor, a therapist, a recovery coach, a priest, or rabbi, it could be any of these. Perhaps it’s pure wanting it; craving life as much as they once did their drug of choice. The difference may be perception, perspective, or worldview; it may be the influences and support of friends and family. Some say it’s a major change in lifestyle or structure, getting married, having a child, a new career, or fortune found; others speak of the simplicity of humility and spirituality that saves the soul and the man. There are some fortunate men and women who get the gift of desperation; yet others find religion and themselves.
Yesterday it was beer, cocaine, and a few joints; kids had years to straighten out before the reaper came to collect. Today it’s Mrs. H., she is heartless, she hits fast without warning, she whispers as the needle kills our youth. There are no second chances, or at least very few. Literally someone dies from opiate addiction every few minutes! We are living through one of the worst epidemics in history. What and who will save our children from this scourge, this black plague?
I really don’t believe that “Recovery Man” is going to fly out of the sky and beat up all of the heroin dealers and end the problem, any more than I think locking up addicts in prisons will end the problem. The current thinking in treatment obviously isn’t working, yet for years things haven’t changed much. We need fresh, open-minded thinking if things are going to change for the better. They say in the rooms of recovery, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Isn’t that what we’ve been doing for decades? It’s not working!
We send a kid to a detox center to get the drugs out of his or her system, then to twenty eight or thirty days at a residential-treatment center, then they go home and promptly relapse. Long-term aftercare seems to be the missing piece of treatment. The other question is twenty eight or thirty days in residential treatment long enough for a person to get a solid foundation to build a sober life upon? I know insurance companies won’t like this, but wouldn’t ninety days make more sense?
Once a recovering substance abuser has a solid foundation, then and only then, there should be long-term aftercare with a case manager, professional recovery coach, family recovery coach, and other professionals as needed to help the person continue to grow and maintain recovery for one to five years. Anyone in long-term recovery will tell you that they were still bonkers at one year clean and sober. Can you imagine how much better the results would be if we did this instead of what we’ve been doing for decades!
Have you ever heard of a man named William White? He wrote a book called “Slaying the Dragon” on addiction. In my humble opinion, Mr. White is the foremost addiction expert of our time. Why isn’t he in charge of stopping this epidemic? I’m sure that Mr. White would come up with some fantastic ideas to overcome this black plague that’s killing our children. If you read Mr. White’s book you will find out that he believes in long-term aftercare, recovery coaching, and case management. I don’t want to speak for him; read his work.
Another important factor to recognize is that addiction effects the whole family and the whole community. If both don’t change, when the substance abuser returns home after initial treatment, it’s like re-planting a plant in bad soil after you re-potted it in healthy soil; it makes no sense. The substance abuser, their family, and their community all need to change in the big picture!
My friend’s two sons will be teenagers in about ten years; I really hope that the great minds and professionals of this Nation can solve this epidemic before then. The good news is that there is fresh, open-minded, progressive thinking and action happening throughout the country. Gloucester, Massachusetts Chief of Police Leonard Campanello started the organization, P.A.A.R.I.: The Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative. The group was started to bridge the gap between police departments and substance abusers seeking recovery from addiction, and support for local police departments as they work to help get heroin addicts into treatment. Professional recovery coaches, case managers, and other addiction recovery professionals are being trained to help fight in this epidemic against heroin addiction. Professionals and citizens are being trained to provide life-saving medications during overdose episodes. Treatment centers, detox centers, and other agencies are providing scholarships, donating services, time, and funding to help save lives. Websites like addictedminds.com that bring together addiction professionals, therapists, interventionists, counselors, coaches, writers, authors, treatment centers, detox centers, aftercare professionals, vconsults addiction professionals books, articles, and products, and those who can benefit from their knowledge, skills, and expertise. All of these fresh, open-minded, and progressive thinkers and others are taking action to make a difference.
Unity, love, and hope will help us to solve this epidemic, it’s already happening. We must put egos aside and understand that every voice matters. Together we will overcome this plague against humanity. There are two young boys in Pittsburg who will be young men soon; they will grow up without a father, I don’t want their sons to.
© 2015 Rev. Dr. Kevin T. Coughlin PhD.