Tag Archives: stigma

Opioid Addiction Epidemic Observations

opioid addiction

Media news outlets are instrumental in presenting a picture of addiction in America. The tireless work of journalists serves to educate all of us on the nature of the disease and informs us about efforts to rectify the problem. While the media doesn’t always get it right, the simple fact that discourse exists is a step in the right direction. Headlines put human faces to the numbers, which is vital to ending the stigma of alcohol and substance use disorders.

Curbing the American opioid addiction epidemic is challenging, due to a myriad of reasons—it's difficult to list them all. There is a fundamental problem in this country in how most people refer to the scourge of opioid use. It's called an "opioid epidemic;" however, the crisis we face is exponentially more massive than the 2 million plus (low estimate) individuals abusing OxyContin or injecting heroin, and the 64,000 people who perished in 2016. In reality, we are up against an addiction epidemic; something many experts and the media have lost sight of in recent years.

While we have all focused on opioids, a family of drugs devastating a large number of White Americans, the use, and abuse of other substances receives little attention. Lawmakers and health experts sincerely desire to help those in the grips of opioid addiction, yet few can agree on the means and ways of accomplishing the task. Congress pledges to help Americans overcome opioid dependence while simultaneously vowing to dismantle legislation intended to protect Americans.

Symptoms of Addiction

Ensuring that insurance companies cover mental health costs is of the utmost importance; the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act and the Affordable Care Act both include provisions mandating insurance to cover all health costs commensurately. A person with opioid use disorder should have the same level of coverage as someone with diabetes. Despite such legislation, providers still find a way to skirt the mandates; a person need only try to get 90-days of treatment covered to determine the depth of their policy regarding parity.

Overprescribing opioid painkillers had a hand in creating the problem we face today, but we must be careful when playing the blame game. Addiction takes root in a person when the conditions are just right, i.e., family history, quality of life, and co-occurring mental illnesses. Doctors were prescribing opioids willy-nilly in the mid to late 2000's, a time when economic hardship was people's reality. Simply put, people were unhappy, opiates made them feel better, and people had access to a bottomless reservoir of painkillers. A large percentage of those same people are still in an unfortunate way.

Doctors could stop prescribing opioids altogether, and the use of drugs like heroin or fentanyl would continue. Unless help is accessible, the suffering and premature deaths will continue. Not just from opioids, any mind-altering substance that results in physical dependence is likely to play a detrimental role in a person's health and their prospect of living a long life. It's vital for us to remember that more Americans die from alcohol each year than from overdoses. Only by looking at the big picture, can we make headway in addressing the scourge of opioid abuse.

How to Solve an Epidemic?

The New York Times is asking its readers to help the publication shape their coverage of opioid use in America. As a society, all of us have been affected by addiction both personally and in our families; with that in mind, everyone’s opinion is valuable to the goal of reducing addiction rates. A NYT survey opens with:

The devastating effects of opioid abuse are rippling through families and neighborhoods across the United States. To improve our coverage we are seeking to learn more about what our readers are looking for. Tell us what kinds of stories you’d like to see us cover. Your answers will be confidential and only shared internally. We won’t use your name or attribute any of your responses to you.”

One of the more critical questions the newspaper asks is: “In general, are you hopeful that the opioid epidemic in America will eventually be solved? Why or why not?”

Opioid Use Disorder Treatment

Addiction is a treatable mental illness provided however you have the right help. At PACE Recovery Center, we can help you get out from under this insidious disease and begin a journey of lasting recovery. Please contact us today if you are in the grips of this progressive mental illness.

In Addiction Recovery Your Voice Matters

e plu·ri·bus u·num

ē ˌplo͝orəbəs ˈ(y)o͞onəm/ noun

  1. out of many, one

In addiction recovery we all have a Voice. It is a fact that no one should ever forget. While in the grips of this most progressive mental health disorder people find themselves mute. Sure, you can speak and be heard when in the cycle of addiction, at least superficially. But, for the most part what you have to say is generally ignored by society. The byproduct of decade after decade of continued disenfranchisement due to social stigma. Despite being an accepted mental health condition, much of society continues to view people with the disease differently. Especially when compared to other life-threatening illness.

Doctors, scientists and psychotherapists all agree that addiction can be treated given the opportunity. Yet, much of society still views use disorders as a moral failing or a lack of willpower. And it can be hard to blame such people. After all, those who have never felt the powerful gravitational pull of mind-altering substances are not likely to understand. Any more than an ambulatory person could understand someone who’s bound to a wheelchair. But, just because we’ve never walked in one’s shoes doesn’t mean that compassion and empathy can’t be exercised en masse.

At this time in American history, the need for compassion and understanding is paramount. Millions of people are currently on a collision course toward premature death. Despite the fact that their disease carries the possibility of recovery. Many of those still out there living in the self-defeating cycle of addiction are deterred from seeking recovery. Having been convinced that recovery is a pipedream. Believing that they are flawed and there is little hope for any kind of redemption from their decisions in life. It’s understandable, but it is a line of thinking that is in error.

Being the Voice of Addiction Recovery

It is probably fair to say that many people in recovery have been patiently awaiting the turn of the tide. A paradigm shift in thinking about addiction among society as a whole. Which is not far-fetched, considering the opioid addiction epidemic which has stolen the lives of people from every demographic. Over the last decade we have seen several lawmakers sing a different tune. Those who, historically, viewed addiction as a moral failing and drug use as a crime now see it differently. In some cases, their enlightenment came at a heavy cost, having lost someone dear to them. The silver lining being that more and more lawmakers are advocating for addiction treatment over jail.

However, even though addiction treatment services exist all over the country they are often underutilized. This is why it is vital that people in active addiction be encouraged to seek treatment. It is crucial that those with alcohol and substance use disorders be shown that recovery is attainable. Rather than wait for society to come around to this well-known fact, we the people in recovery can help. We can share our stories of recovery to inspire those still in the shadow of addiction. It is worth remembering that people in recovery are not a small demographic.

Everyday, millions of people around the globe work programs of continued recovery. People from all walks of life sharing the common bond of recovery. Everyone’s addiction and recovery is their own, to be shared about at their own discretion. One of the pillars of recovery being anonymity. Yet, that doesn’t mean that one can’t decide to share their experience of recovery with people not in the program. You just can’t share another person’s story. Your story belongs to you.

Join The Voices for Recovery

Stigma still exists, to be sure. There are those who would use such information of your illness against you, still to this day. But, that is becoming less and less a reality. We are not out of the woods yet, by any means, but slow progress is being made in that respect. Evolution aided by the realities of the addiction epidemic in America.

In recent years you may have noticed that greater numbers of people are choosing to talk about their disease. Not just at meetings, but at large. Using media as a tool to show that addiction can happen to anyone, you are eligible too (YET). Such people are not doing this for sympathy, they bravely share their story of recovery to encourage others. When people in the grips of addiction see that recovery is possible, they are more likely to seek help. Which is why during National Recovery Month, SAMHSA is urging people in recovery to do something courageous. This September, Join The Voices for Recovery to inspire change.

Out of many, one. By ourselves little change can be affected, together the voices of recovery can ripple across the country. Potentially inspiring countless people to do something courageous, like seek treatment. We realize that not everyone can, or feels comfortable sharing their story in a public forum. Particularly not in the biggest public forum ever conceived—the Internet. But, many of you do, and have so far. Over the last couple weeks people have been using their voice on YouTube and beyond to encourage others. It could be argued that young people in recovery can have the greatest impact. Their peers being some of the more difficult to sway toward treatment. Young people with addiction are often in denial, saying, ‘I’m not what addiction looks like.’ Often a fatal delusion.

In Recovery: I Am, Because of You

If you’d like to Join The Voices for Recovery, you can find information here. You can see an example below:

If you are having trouble watching, please click here.

All of us in recovery didn’t end up here by accident. Most of us resisted for years before being encouraged to seek help. Our story can only be told because others were there for us when we could not be there for ourselves. When we could not trust our own judgment. The fellowship took us in, when no one else would. Right now, thousands of young men battling opioid use disorder are at great risk of overdose. Encouraging such people to reach for recovery will in effect, help them save their own life.

If you are a young male who is ready to make the courageous choice of recovery, please contact PACE Recovery Center today. Recovery is possible and we can help you find it, and the gifts that come with the fellowship.

Addiction Recovery: Peer-to-Peer Model

addiction recovery

Peer-to-peer support is the model of 12 Step recovery. And it works. So well, in fact, that practically every method of addiction recovery has been designed around that model. Since the 1930’s, Americans have been coming together to share their experience, strength and hope. Today, 12 Step programs are being utilized around the world saving lives in some of the most unlikely of places.

While peer-to-peer support is highly effective at helping people turn their lives around, it is not foolproof. Those who do not follow the suggestions of their peers, or put in the necessary work, are unlikely to succeed. If you have been a member Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous for even a short time, you understand. One old saying couldn’t be further from the truth: “It only works, if you work it.” Those who are willing to share their struggle and be receptive to feedback, and actually heed it, have a great shot at long term recovery.

So, why does it work so well? For one thing, addicts and alcoholics are not the most receptive to being told what to do. Even with time under one’s recovery belt, it can still be a real challenge (at times) to follow direction. However, those who attend AA and NA meetings are not exactly in need of advice. In many cases, they know the right answer to a given problem. No, what recovery members look for is shared experience. As opposed to giving advice, the recovery community shares with one another what worked for them similar situations. It is a method that does not make one feel admonished or patronized. On the other hand, you feel as though you are a part of something greater than yourself. A part of a fellowship that has a vested interest in your success.

Peer-to-Peer Addiction Recovery

Today, there is hardly a town that does not have some form of 12 Step addiction recovery at one’s disposal. From large Alano Clubs in cities to the basements of small places of worship in rural America, 12 Step meetings can be accessed. For the majority of Americans, getting to a meeting is not a difficult matter. Although, and to be fair, there are some Americans who must drive long distances to access recovery support groups. There are others, still, that are leery about going to a meeting in their hometown. The fear of social stigma is still quite strong.

People who are new to recovery often have a hard time believing that their anonymity will be honored in such environs. Trusting that what they say in the “rooms” will stay in the room. Which makes sense, people who are newly clean and sober are not the most trusting. Until finding recovery their life has never given them cause to trust. The world of active addiction is one of manipulation and deceit. If you are new to recovery, please understand that recovery is the antithesis of addiction. What was true to the realm of addiction is the exact opposite in recovery. Ours is a fellowship of trust and respect.

The members of addiction recovery programs have no hidden agendas. No interest in disseminating personal information about another member. What we do have is an expressed desire in paying it forward. Helping others stay clean and sober, which in turn helps us keep the recovery we have acquired. Recovery can’t be kept if one is unwilling to give it away—freely. Those willing to do the work — exercising compassion and respect for their fellow members — succeed.

Digital Addiction Recovery

addiction recovery

Despite what has been said about being honest, some may still struggle to walk into a room full of strangers. Especially with the aim of baring one’s soul and asking for guidance. There are, in fact, places in the world whose society discriminates against addicts and alcoholics heavily. Even if there were a brick and mortar place to sit with people and talk, many will hesitate. Which is one of the essential reasons Dan Blackman and Tyler Faux created a peer-to-peer support app called Huddle. A place where people with mental health disorders like addiction, depression and anxiety can connect, Business Insider reports. Huddle users can join online peer support groups anonymously.

If you live in New York, you can go to 10, 20 meetings a day if you wanted, because we have such density and such a low social taboo around talking about your feelings," said Faux. "But in a lot of other places, and certainly in the rest of the world, that's not the case."

The idea to create the video peer-to-peer support app is personal to co-founder Dan Blackman. His father died from untreated alcohol use disorder in northwestern Pennsylvania, according to the article. Blackman says that there were not many options for people living with addiction or mental illness. Some people, like his father, fear seeking help because of blowback from the community. A fear that cost Blackman’s father his life. Huddle gives users control over how anonymous they want to be. Users can pixelate their face and have auto-generated username, if they like.

Recovery Reaches Further

It’s worth noting that not everyone using Huddle is anonymous, or new to the program. There are people in recovery with varying lengths of Time in the program. Some do not hide their faces. Which means that this could be a tool for, or an extension of one’s regular homegroup and weekly meetings. Perhaps when you are traveling or in rural areas. It is worth checking out, at the very least.

Are you a young man in need of addiction recovery? Do you feel that more than the going to meetings is needed, initially? PACE Recovery Center can help you stem the tide of active addiction and introduce you to recovery. We can show you how living a life in recovery is possible with the help of a fellowship. Please contact us today.

Mental Illness Sick Days

mental illness

If you get the flu, you would probably do what anyone would do, call in sick. After all, you wouldn't want to risk passing a bug on to your coworkers or work at less than 100 percent. Every day, millions of people call in sick to work for various illnesses, it is commonplace. But, there are some illnesses that people shy away from calling in, for fear of professional consequences. Mental illness.

Millions of Americans, and hundreds of millions around the globe are living with what are, at times, debilitating mental health disorders. Yet, waking up amid a depressive episode or an anxiety attack might not prompt someone to contact their workplace asking for a day off. There are a number of reasons for this, some people experiencing such problems may not think it warrants a sick-day. Others may think that they can muscle through the workday without a loss of productivity. Perhaps more common, and even more saddening, is the fact that many employers do not understand mental health disorders. Or employers believe that they are just cause for a day away from the office. They might say something like: “we all struggle with angst at times, we all get a little sad from time to time.”

Just pick your head up, and put your best foot forward, right? Wrong! People who manage their mental illness day-in-day-out can’t always stay ahead of the symptoms. There are going to be days when functioning is just not a reality. In such cases, most people will try to hide it at work rather than let on that they have a condition. And it should go without saying that doing that can be a slippery slope. People living with behavioral health conditions, who do not put their well-being first, are at risk of exacerbating their symptoms.

Mental Illness Is Real

In the 21st Century the verdict on mental health disorders like anxiety, depression, bipolar, et al. is no longer out. Mental illness is real, in every family there is at least one person who has been touched by such disorders. People living with mental health issues should not be discriminated against or stigmatized. But, they are. Even in more enlightened environs, the afflicted feel as though they need to hide what is going on underneath the surface. The result of years of conditioning, perhaps.

With each year that passes, more and more people living with mental health disorders are saying, ‘enough!’ They will no longer be shamed into putting their needs last. It is a brave move, and can be costly to one’s career, because most employers are not so enlightened. However, there are some workplaces who encourage those with mental illness to take time for themselves when it is needed. Perhaps a sign that the ‘times they are a-changin.' Not too long ago, few could’ve imagined calling in sick for mental health reasons, and returning to work on Monday with their job intact.

A recent email exchange between an employee and an employer regarding this subject went ‘viral’ (no pun intended) this month. A truly remarkable story of a CEO who understands the negative impact of mental health stigma. Madalyn Parker—an executive at Olark Live Chat—sent an email to her team at work explaining that she would be away from the office to focus on her mental health, PEOPLE reports. The response received from the company’s CEO was, well it was…up worthy!

Hey team, I’m taking today and tomorrow to focus on my mental health,” Parker wrote. “Hopefully I’ll be back next week refreshed and back to 100%.”
I just wanted to personally thank you for sending e-mails like this,” Olark CEO Ben Congleton wrote back. “Every time you do, I use it as a reminder of the importance of using sick days for mental health – I can’t believe this is not standard practice at all organizations. You are an example to us all, and help cut through the stigma so we can bring our whole selves to work.”

There Is No Place for Stigma

Parker posted the exchange on social media, and the Internet celebrated and commended Congleton and Parker’s exchange. And for good reason. This kind of thing is infinitesimally rare. Which is why we need more of this type of exchange in the workplace. Normalizing mental health disorders is of the utmost importance. It will not only increase productivity, it will save lives.

Even in the safest environment it is still uncommon to be direct with your coworkers about mental health issues,” Congleton wrote on Medium, a few days later. “I wanted to call this out and express gratitude for Madalyn’s bravery in helping us normalize mental health as a normal health issue.”

Parker added:

After repeatedly being told to keep my problems to myself for fear of discrimination, it’s good to know that it actually is possible to be open about mental health (even at work!)…You should never feel like you can’t address your emotional well-being because ‘it’s just not something you talk about at work.’”

Co-Occurring Recovery

Many of us working programs of addiction recovery are living with a dual diagnosis, as well. A co-occurring mental illness that, like the addiction, must be managed every day of the week. If one’s symptoms of depression or anxiety are ignored, it could lead to a relapse—or something worse. If you are in recovery for a co-occurring disorder, it is vital that you do not put your employment before your personal wellbeing. Fearing the consequences of being upfront about what you are going through is normal. But ignoring your condition for the sake of a day’s work can be deadly.

If you are still in the grips of addiction, battling another form of mental health disorder as well—please contact PACE Recovery Center to begin the lifesaving journey of addiction recovery.

Mental Health Disorders Feel Like…

mental health disorders

A few weeks ago we wrote about the global problem of depression, a serious mental health disorder that plagues more that 300 million people worldwide. With such a high prevalence of depression, the leading cause of poor health and disability around the word, one would hope that nations would place treating mental illness at the top of their list. Unfortunately, as with any form of mental illness, only a small percentage of those suffering ever receive any help. It cannot be stressed enough that untreated mental health disorders can, and often are a death sentence; such people are at high risk of committing suicide or using mind-altering substances to dull the pain. Either way, the outcome is rarely good.

Even in the most developed nations of the West, those impacted by mental health conditions like addiction, depression and bipolar disorder struggle to get assistance. In many cases, it is not for a lack of trying—or wanting help. As we mentioned back towards the beginning of April, the World Health Organization (WHO) was in the midst of a year-long campaign to encourage people to talk about their depression. Sometimes talking about an issue can strengthen one’s resolve to seek help, and begin the journey of recovery. And everyone, in our society, has a vested interest in encouraging a serious discussion about mental health. Not only will it help to wear down that persistent stigma of mental health disorders, one the biggest obstacles between the afflicted and treatment, it will make Society healthier as a whole.

Problems left unchecked in an individual, have a way of becoming everyone’s problem. The costs of undiagnosed and untreated mental illness are staggering—the human cost is even more troubling. Treatment is out there, it is up to us all to encourage people to view mental illness as they would any chronic health condition, as you would say diabetes. The longer that goes unrealized, lives will continue to be needlessly lost. In addition to WHO’s year-long, Depression: Let’s Talk, campaign—the organization Mental Health America (MHA) is doing their part as well.

Mental Health Month 2017

Going back to 1909, if you can believe that, Mental Health America has been committed to addressing the needs of people affected by any one of the many forms of mental illness. The nation's leading community-based nonprofit in the field, seeks to promote the overall mental health of everyone.

This time every year, the month of May, MHA asks that individuals and organizations observe Mental Health Month (sometimes called Mental Health Awareness Month). The theme this year is Risky Business, and the goal is to “educate people about habits and behaviors that increase the risk of developing or exacerbating mental illnesses, or could be signs of mental health problems themselves.”

Individuals who have been touched by mental illness are being asked to share what it is like to live with a mental health disorder. In doing so, you can send a clear message to those whose illness has gone untreated that they are not alone. That others too understand what it is like living in a society that views mental illness with suspicion. And that treatment is not only available, it can drastically improve the quality of one’s life. There isn’t any cure for mental illness, but it can be managed with medications and therapy. There are those, too, who may not be aware that that how they are feeling is symptomatic of a mental health disorder, sharing what It is like could encourage them to get screened.

If you would like to have a role in helping others, MHA asks that you take to social media using the #mentalillnessfeelslike Organizations interested in hosting an event can access information here.

Addiction From Untreated Mental Health Disorders

People with mental health disorders, as we have mentioned, do not seek help for several reasons. In many ways spurning treatment is an aspect of one’s disease. Naturally, there are inherent risks in eschewing help, such as self-medicating one’s illness. Individuals often turn to drugs and alcohol to mitigate the symptoms of depression and anxiety. The behavior persists because at first the substances make them feel a little better. But over time it becomes harder and harder to achieve the desired relief. What’s more, a substance use disorder is commonly the end result of self-medicating mental health disorders.

What once eased one’s mind, actually ends up making the symptoms of mental illness worse. This is what is called a co-occurring disorder, two illness’ feeding off each other at the expense of their host. It is not uncommon for people with untreated co-occurring mental health disorders to resort to drastic measures such a suicide. Once again highlighting the importance of screening and treatment.

If any of what you have read in this post has resonated inside you, or your story is one of untreated addiction and co-occurring illness—please note that with such conditions, time is rarely a luxury one can afford. With diseases of the mind, the symptoms are progressive. Please contact PACE Recovery Center.

This is Your Brain On Drugs – 20 Years Later

This is Your Brain On Drugs

Some of you are likely to remember a series of public service announcements (PSA) made by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America ® for a nationwide anti-drug campaign called This is Your Brain On Drugs. The large-scale campaign was launched in 1987, in a different era, at least with respect to how the nation viewed drug addiction and what to do about what we now know to be a form of mental health disorder. The first PSA titled “Frying Pan,” has actor John Roselius frying ups some eggs in order to show viewers what drugs do to your brain.

The second iteration of the campaign was released in 1997 and was titled again, "Frying Pan." The PSA starred actress Rachael Leigh Cook essentially using a frying pan and an egg to demonstrate to viewers the inherent dangers that accompany using heroin, and presumably other drugs as well, but heroin was singled out. The 30 second clip highlighted the fact that one’s drug use didn’t only affect the individual, but rather one’s family and one could even argue society.

If you were not born yet, too young to remember or would like to refresh your memory, please take a moment to watch the short PSA:

If you are having trouble viewing the clip, please click here.

You can probably gather that the PSA’s toed the line of the American “war on drugs.” While the PSA’s attempted to scare people away from drugs, pointing out that they would take everything from you, even your life; the makers of the ads seemed to forget to mention that before drugs took your life, they could be a cause for losing your freedom. Both the aforementioned PSAs ending with the rhetorical statement, “Any Questions?” As if frying an egg or smashing up an apartment would say everything that needed to be said about the reasons for abstaining from drugs.

Any Questions About Addiction

While Entertainment Weekly named “Frying Pan” 8th best commercial of all time, the American Egg Board, naturally, had some concerns about eggs getting an unfair reputation. At the end of the day; however, This is Your Brain On Drugs was a scare tactic, as were all public service announcements about drug use going back to Reefer Madness. They were all created under the premise that drug use was a choice; you could choose to, or not, but the power was in your hands. If you chose wrongly, you risked everything.

Even though addiction is a disease, a symptom of which include the use of drugs, drugs are still for the most part illegal under both state and Federal law. For decades, as we have written about in the past, the 40+ year war on drugs has done little to prevent and treat substance abuse. What it has done is disenfranchise millions of Americans, mostly people who were low on the socio-economic spectrum and minorities. Getting caught up in the legal system for the crime of addiction has proven to be relatively easy, getting out of it has proven to be much more difficult.

Today, in the 21st Century and still in the grips of an opioid addiction epidemic, many people's views about the war on drugs have changed. Thanks both to science and the fact that the epidemic has predominantly affected white America (both rich and poor), our society has been rethinking the true cost of the war on drugs. And, as a result, more Americans than ever are advocating for addiction treatment over prison for those caught possessing illegal drugs.

We are not out of the woods yet. There are still swaths of lawmakers who cling to draconian drug policies as the solution to addiction. Which is why the fight to end the stigma of this most serious mental illness must continue. Which has not been lost on the Drug Policy Alliance, the nation's leading organization promoting drug policies that are grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights. The organization, with the help of a 20-years older Rachael Leigh Cook, decided to make a postscript to the 1997 PSA. In the new version of the “Frying Pan,” Cook says:

The war on drugs is ruining peoples' lives. It fuels mass incarceration, it targets people of color in greater numbers than their white counter parts. It cripples communities, it costs billions, and it doesn't work. Any questions?

Please take a moment to watch:

If you are having trouble watching, please click here.

Addiction Treatment Is The Answer

Effective measures of treating addiction were helping a significant number of Americans in 1987 at the start of This is Your Brain On Drugs. It wasn’t talked about, because it did not line up with the stigma-driven narrative of addiction employed at the time. It was being treated and people were living lives in recovery, just as they are today. Fortunately, people touched by the disease today have more of an ability to seek help, without fear of prosecution.

Now the science behind addiction, and other forms of mental illness is far better understood. With each year that passes, the stigma of addiction seems to soften. Slowly, but surely, more Americans see the value of ending the war on drugs and advocating for treatment. If you or a loved one has been touched by the deadly disease of addiction, please contact PACE Recovery Center.

Stigma of Addiction: Stop the Shame


How we treat people who have diseases which can be fatal says a lot about who we are both as a nation and a society. Our ability to express empathy to those who are suffering from conditions that are, in many cases, outside of one’s control is of vital importance—especially in this day and age living in a country that has been racked by addiction.

Throughout out the second half of the 20th Century and into the 21st, the United States has made and gone through significant changes with how we look at those afflicted by a substance use disorder and how to best effectively treat addiction. Not too long ago, the majority of Americans would have said of addiction, if asked, that it was likely a moral failing; such people lack constitution or willpower and are an example of extreme narcissism.

To be fair, a superficial look at addiction could present a picture of the aforementioned pejorative statements. It could be easy for anyone without all the facts to view the disease in such a light, and such viewpoints are then perpetuated and disseminated to others who also lack the ability to grasp what is actually going on inside the mind of an addict. As a result, thunderous clouds of stigma float permanently above the millions of Americans who have been touched by this pernicious mental illness.

Yet, a closer look through the lens of science reveals the nature of addiction as being something altogether different. Which is why, for quite some time the disease of addiction has been classified as a serious mental health disorder, a condition that has little to do with a moral compass. Scientists have overwhelmingly concluded, that while no one chooses to be an addict and there is not a cure for the disorder, with assistance those living in active addiction can make changes to break away from drugs and alcohol and recover. Going on to live a meaningful and productive life, existing as part of society rather than being the subject of ostracization.

From Stigma to Empathy

If addiction is a disorder which has no cure, but can be maintained allowing for individuals to live relatively normal lives, then do you wonder why addicts are viewed so differently than those who suffer from other incurable conditions? The response to that question is far from easy to answer, being the subject of many an investigation. But simply put, much of the stigma of addiction rests on the fact that the complex disease is not well understood. Such a reality has opened the door for people without any qualifications to draw conclusion about substance use, and nonchalantly disseminate their “2+2=5” summations.

We would like you to imagine for a moment and entreat you to look honestly inside your selves, that somebody close to you contracted a serious illness. Perhaps a condition that science currently offers no cure, but does provide treatments that can prove effective at slowing down the progression of such disorders (e.g. diabetes, HIV, cancer and Parkinson’s). Could you picture yourself acting towards that individual in such a way as to elicit guilt or shame inside your loved one? Can you see yourself saying to someone dying from cancer or AIDS that they are ‘not trying hard enough?’ That they could get better, but are choosing to do otherwise. While rhetorical questions like this may seem like “no brainers,” they illustrate the absurdity of casting stones at somebody with a terminal illness.

Now, please close your eyes, picture your mother, daughter or neighbor is not suffering from cancer, but rather addiction. Would you act the same way in respect to them, as you would if they had cancer?

PSAs About Stigma

Breaking the stigma of addiction is a process that requires a multifaceted approach involving several agencies. Last week, the American College of Physicians (ACP) published a position paper arguing that addiction should be viewed as a “chronic disease” requiring treatment. Substance use problems are not a "moral disorder or character defect."

At the same time, a new campaign was launched called “Stop the Shame,” which released two public service announcements aimed at breaking the stigma of addiction. We must warn you ahead of time, the PSAs are hard to watch due to the videos accuracy with regard to how people living with addiction can be, and often are treated.

PSA 1: Addicts Hear Comments Cancer Patients Never Would

If you are having trouble watching, please click here.

PSA 2: Addicts Hear Comments Parkinson’s Patients Never Would

If you are having trouble watching, please click here.

Far Reaching Effects

The tough comments that people with addiction endure on regular basis have a serious impact, affecting American society. Those made to feel shame and guilt about addiction are less inclined to seek help for their condition. As a result, their illness progresses, sending ripples throughout the country. For starters, without treatment, more and more families find themselves burying loved ones before their time. There is also a huge economic toll that is associated with untreated addiction. Lawmakers have tried arresting addiction away, unsuccessfully. The time for compassion, is now.

The War On Drugs: A Closer Look

Some of our older readers can probably remember when President Richard Nixon called drug abuse America’s public enemy number one. You can likely remember when the 37th President of the United States declared a “war on drugs.” Setting aside any ulterior motives or hidden agendas, Nixon’s declaration of war seemed to make sense. Drugs are both dangerous and deadly. They have the power to ruin the lives of individuals and their families. Illegal drug manufacturing, distribution and use place a heavy economic toll on society.

The war on drugs was basically a three-pronged effort to target illegal drug sales, help addicts recover from what we know now to be a mental health disorder and educate young people about the dangers of substance use and abuse. Unfortunately, now forty years later, we know that most of the Federal government’s energy was directed towards incarcerating drug offenders. Whether they be dealers or addicts. The idea, presumably, arrest those who supply drugs and those who demand them. And voilà! The problem goes away. Right?

President Nixon may have started the war, but the battle to rid the country of both drugs and addiction would continue under every Commander-in-Chief to follow. Aggressively under both Presidents Reagan and Clinton. It is important for all of us to remember that the ill-fated war on drugs in America was believed in by lawmakers on both sides of the Congressional and Presidential aisle. It was about party affiliation. Going after drug traffickers in this country and abroad, and arresting individuals for breaking laws prohibiting the use of certain narcotics, seemed like good policy. Not just in America.

Decades later, and a closer look at such a policy and the results that it achieved versus the costs (not just monetarily), one will see that what can only be described as a dismal failure presents itself. As is evident by the fact that we host the largest prison population and have the biggest drug problem on the planet—despite everyone’s best intentions. Over half of inmates in the U.S. are in jail or prison for nonviolent drug offenses.

While the last decade could be called a quasi-cease fire in the war in drugs (i.e. changes in mandatory minimum sentencing, drug courts, state-level marijuana legalization and presidential pardons for nonviolent offenders), there is still a lot more to be done with regard to putting an end to draconian drug sentencing laws. Also, with breaking the stigma of addiction, so that people who need help can get it.

A War on Drugs, Abroad…

You may have seen news reports over the last year, covering President Duterte of the Philippines. A leader who essentially declared that the punishment for both drug dealers and addicts is death. One not even be given the luxury of a trial, evidenced by suspects being gunned down on the streets. It is fair to say that the approach in the Philippines is far more severe than any war on drugs to come before. Even compared to a country with a history of being the frontline of the global war on drugs, Colombia.

In the 1980’s and early-90’s, with the help of billions of American dollars and the CIA, the Colombian government fought tooth and nail to bring down narcotraficantes (drug traffickers). With the most notable target being Pablo Escobar, who was finally brought down under Colombian President Cesar Gaviria in 1993. While that nation won a few battles, Gaviria points out that it came at great costs in New York Times op-ed published last week. With first-hand experience in such matters and a founding member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, the former Colombian leader used the op-ed as a forum to reach out to President Duterte. Warning him about what is at stake, if his hardline approach continues.

Winning the fight against drugs requires addressing not just crime, but also public health, human rights and economic development. No matter what Mr. Duterte believes, there will always be drugs and drug users in the Philippines. But it is important to put the problem in perspective: The Philippines already has a low number of regular drug users. The application of severe penalties and extrajudicial violence against drug consumers makes it almost impossible for people with drug addiction problems to find treatment. Instead, they resort to dangerous habits and the criminal economy. Indeed, the criminalization of drug users runs counter to all available scientific evidence of what works.” Gaviria adds, “Taking a hard line against criminals is always popular for politicians. I was also seduced into taking a tough stance on drugs during my time as president. The polls suggest that Mr. Duterte’s war on drugs is equally popular. But he will find that it is unwinnable. I also discovered that the human costs were enormous. We could not win the war on drugs through killing petty criminals and addicts. We started making positive impacts only when we changed tack, designating drugs as a social problem and not a military one.”

Not Just A History Lesson

Hopefully, Gaviria sage wisdom will not fall on deaf ears, and the lives of addicts overseas may be spared. Here at home, where we do not see addicts being meted out extrajudicial punishments, we have a seen a lot of progress in recent years with regard to drugs and how those who use them are treated. In a number of cities across the country, addicts can surrender their drugs to police. Instead of being given handcuffs in return, those living in addiction are shown compassion and referred to treatment centers. A trend that we all hope will continue.

While President Gaviria’s message was meant for the President of the Philippines, hopefully it will be heeded in some degree here in America. As was emphasized earlier, there is still a lot more that can be done, that can make a real impact for the better. Last week, a Presidential Executive Order on Enforcing Federal Law with Respect to Transnational Criminal Organizations and Preventing International Trafficking was signed. Some working in the field of addiction fear that the language in the new EO might echo the draconian approaches of the past in the American war on addiction. In the NYT op-ed (unrelated to the new EO) mentioned earlier, Gaviria closed with:

A successful president makes decisions that strengthen the public good. This means investing in solutions that meet the basic standards of basic rights and minimize unnecessary pain and suffering. The fight against drugs is no exception. Strategies that target violent criminals and undermine money laundering are critical. So, too, are measures that decriminalize drug users, support alternative sentencing for low-level nonviolent offenders and provide a range of treatment options for drug abusers. This is a test that many of my Colombian compatriots have failed...”

PACE Recovery Mission

At PACE Recovery Center, our mission is to provide our clients with a safe and supportive environment to help them overcome the challenges they have experienced due to alcohol and drug abuse. We believe that incorporating sound clinical interventions and a lifestyle that encourages health and wellness, in a shame free setting that encourages accountability and responsibility, will help foster long term recovery.

We will continue our efforts to break the stigma of addiction.

Replace the Stigma of Mental Illness With Hope

mental-illnessWith our nation’s eyes fixed on the television screen and other major media outlets following the primaries, there are a number of other important events happening that are being overlooked—such as Mental Health Month (MHM). Last month, events were held across the country to raise awareness about alcohol, with the goal of educating Americans about how alcohol can impact one’s life which would hopefully prevent people from traveling down a dangerous path towards alcoholism. In May, everyone is being called upon to do their part in ending the stigma of mental illness and advocate for equal care. Mental health disorder is an umbrella term that covers a number of different conditions, including addiction. The disease is recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V). There are 20.2 million adults in America who have experienced a substance use disorder, a staggering number which begs everyone’s attention, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). On top of that, more than half (50.5 percent or 10.2 million adults) had a co-occurring disorder; this is when someone living with addiction also suffers from another form of mental illness, such as: anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression and posttraumatic stress disorder. Mental health awareness is an extremely important topic, especially when you consider that the majority of people living with any form of mental illness do not receive mental health services. In the past year, only 41 percent of people with a mental health condition were able to get assistance, NAMI reports. Mental illness is unlike a number of other health issues, brain diseases currently do not have a cure, which means it is paramount for not only the patient, but society that those who are afflicted get the help they so desperately need. Expanding access to mental health services will only come to fruition if we, as a nation, work together to break the stigma that has for too long accompanied treatable conditions. We all have a vested interest in bringing mental illness out of the darkness, practically every American is close to someone who battles with a mental health issue 365-days a year. Every year, 43.8 million adults in America experience mental illness, approximately 1 in 5. May is Mental Health Month (MHM), and there are a number of things you can do to help break the stigma of mental illness. NAMI is asking people to harness the power of social media platforms to share mental health related information, images and graphics with #StigmaFree or #MentalHealthMonth. You can also take your efforts one step forward by taking a pledge to be ‪#‎StigmaFree‬. It’s quick, easy and could reach the millions of people who are too afraid to seek help due to societal shame. Just follow the steps below:
  1. Take the pledge.
  2. Record your video.
  3. Upload to your YouTube channel and other social media accounts.
  4. Be sure to include #StigmaFree in the title of your video.
If you’d like, take a moment to watch The Big Bang Theory’s Mayim Bialik take the pledge to be #StigmaFree: If you can’t see the video, please click here.