A while back, I wrote about shifting the way we look at addiction—examining the impact true connection can have on the choices we make. Whether you’ve made that shift yourself or not, it’s impossible to avoid the reality of what addiction looks like today. I have yet to find an infographic or line graph out there offering a glimmer of hope.
Being the eternal optimist, I need to believe there are a handful of people out there willing to take a different approach to addiction. Those who recognize that the status quo isn’t working, and are asking the question: What might work better?
Here’s what my quest for a light at the end of this somber tunnel revealed, even if a rather dim light at this point.
Portugal made some radical changes to their drug laws in 2001, when addiction reached epic levels in their streets and town squares. They became the first country to decriminalize “the possession and consumption of all illicit substances.” Yes, you read that correctly. Rather than throwing their citizens in jail when they find them carrying something like heroin, they get them to local public agencies who can teach them “about treatment, harm reduction, and support services” available to them.
If you’re envisioning Portugal’s already-epic addiction levels suddenly skyrocketing to super-mega-epic levels, you would be wrong. As The Guardian article above notes, “The opioid crisis soon stabilized and the ensuing years saw dramatic drops in problematic drug use, HIV and hepatitis infection rates, overdose deaths, drug-related crime, and incarceration rates. HIV infection plummeted from an all-time high in 2000 of 104.2 new cases per million to 4.2 cases per million in 2015.”
It took more than a change in the law for such a major improvement across their country, though. The conversation changed from discussing people in the throes of addiction as junkies to “people who use drugs” or “people with addiction disorders.” Can you feel the difference in judgment being passed? Which one would make you feel like there was some hope for pulling yourself out or helping someone else find the strength?
Another example of a different approach lands us a little closer to home. The small town of Little Falls, MN, has reined in their opioid epidemic by viewing it as a disease rather than a criminal act. More specifically, in 2014 they invested approximately $1.4 million in state grants to promote public health methods, such as restricting prescription refills, making addiction medications more accessible, and pointing drug users in the direction of treatment programs rather than jail.
The results of their out-of-the-box approach have been noteworthy, to say the least. Beforehand, the number one reason for people visiting the ER at their St. Gabriel’s Hospital was to get a prescription for painkillers. Once they realized it was time to take control of the situation, it fell below the top 20 reasons for an ER visit. Recent statistics show St. Gabriel’s has tapered 626 people off opioids, with 100 more patients heading toward the same destination by using addiction medication. Some of the doctors leading the charge with these methods are traveling around and sharing the message of their success.
The last aspect I investigated was addiction treatment centers. Surely, it makes sense that any period of addiction requires some focused attention to the addict’s body to get it back to a healthy state. A healthy body and mind make better choices in every aspect of life.
So, are there facilities out there that allow something like nutrition to play a role in the recovery process? The answer is: Yes! An internet search brought up several addiction treatment centers that offer a holistic path for residents. For instance, Desert Cove Recovery in Arizona recognizes a connection between nutrition and rehabilitation. And, just like everyone else on the planet, the nutritional needs of their residents vary widely—a key part of their recovery involves determining what each of them needs.
It’s time to truly see our fellow humans as just that—fellow humans. We all have something we’re dealing with. For some, it is addiction. Maybe it’s time to consider some of the different approaches others have used to successfully help the people of their communities.
Image from iStock/KatarzynaBialasiewicz.