Blog author WMU-Cooley Professor Lauren Rousseau is a strong advocate and frequent speaker on the very personal and painful topic of addiction. She will be one of many speakers from across the nation to bring this important topic to legislators and the community at a Unite to Face Addiction (UFAM) statewide rally at the State Capitol in Lansing, Michigan on June 2, 2016. The rally is aimed at increasing awareness and eliminating stigma associated with addiction, as well as communicating to legislators the urgent need for action to combat the opioid/heroin epidemic gripping our state and nation. UFAM is an organization working to unite the many grassroots, recovery-focused, prevention, support, and treatment organizations in Michigan around a common advocacy agenda. For more information, or to participate in a rally, go to the UFAM website at ufamichigan.org.
It’s old news that the United States is in the midst of a drug epidemic of unprecedented proportions. More than 129 people a day are dying from drug overdose in this country, and the scourge has hit all segments of the population – young and old, rich and poor, rural, suburban and inner-city, and every racial and ethnic group. In 2014 – the most recent year for which we have accurate numbers – more than 1,700 people died of drug overdose in Michigan. Our state currently ranks 18th in the nation in the number of overdose deaths.
These numbers are shocking, but it’s a whole new level of “real” when the drug epidemic makes a personal appearance in your life. When you are close enough to it, you learn that the statistics mask a much greater number of casualties. They don’t include the drug-related car accidents, suicides, or murders. And they don’t reveal the indescribable emotional pain endured by family and friends of loved ones whose lives have been torn apart by addiction that ends in death.
In 2012, I was legal guardian for a young man who had developed an addiction to heroin. He was like a son to me, and I loved him like my own. The emotional trauma of dealing with his addiction – of trying everything in my power to help him find a healthier life path through multiple stints in rehab, counseling, recovery homes, negotiation, anger, love, detachment, support – was eclipsed only by the shock of learning one sunny afternoon that he had been murdered at the home of a friend. He wouldn’t have been in that house, or with that friend, if it weren’t for his addiction. He was 19 years old.
Every day, more than 129 new families can tell a story similar to mine – considerably more, because as I said, that number accounts only for death by overdose. It doesn’t include death by – say, murder. Taking a ride on the addiction roller coaster with a loved one that ends in death changes a person. Many of us cope by becoming warriors – advocates for change in how addiction is perceived and treated in our communities and by our political leaders. For too long, addiction has been treated as a crime warranting incarceration, and as a reflection of moral depravity. The uninitiated believe that substance use is a choice, and wonder in disgust why the addict doesn’t just stop using. We – the addiction warriors – know that addiction is a mental illness. The compulsion to use is so powerful that it overrides all reason, all rational fear of negative consequences, even the fear of death. We know that no one – no one – chooses to become an addict. They may choose to pick up that first drink or drug, but once the “addiction switch” is flipped, the element of choice is gone. The medical community characterizes addiction as a “bio-psycho-social” disease. Recovery is possible, but frequently requires some form of mental health treatment in order for the addict to find a way out of the nightmare in which he has become trapped.
The drug epidemic has created an army of addiction warriors that is growing every day. Grassroots organizations are springing up all around the country – many started by parents who have lost children to this disease – to provide education, support, prevention programs, and to advocate for change. In Michigan, a new organization has been formed that seeks to unite these many grassroots organizations, as well as treatment facilities and other addiction-related nonprofits, for purposes of advocacy and public education. Unite to Face Addiction-Michigan (UFAM) was started by the principals of a number of these addiction-related groups, as well as passionate individuals whose lives have been impacted by this disease – including myself.
April 7, 2015 Blog Forums Held on Heroin Addiction Generate Intense Interest