Whether or not one ascribes to the disease theory of addiction, the fact remains that human lives – all human lives – have value and all humans deserve to live.
By Princess Harmony
In America’s Rust Belt–a geographical area hit hardest first by poverty and then by the heroin and fentanyl epidemics–a city councilman proposed an idea so cruel that it feels like it could have come out of a bad parody of America.
To save money on ambulances and other emergency services, Middletown, Ohio City councilman Dan Picard, proposed a Narcan three-strikes rule. Narcan is a medicine used to reverse the effects of opiate/opioid overdoses. This proposal, he claimed, would save the city money by abandoning people who “didn’t care about their own lives”. In other words, if you overdosed on heroin, fentanyl, or similar drugs, you’d only have Narcan administered to you twice. The third time, you’d be left to die if you didn’t have anyone around you who could administer it to you.
Narcan has saved thousands of lives, without it, the heroin epidemic would be akin to a massacre. In Dan Picard’s world, money is more important than the lives of actual humans. His is a viewpoint that comes from the idea that addiction is a failure of morality or willpower, rather than a mental illness or a disease. Whether or not one ascribes to the disease theory of addiction, the fact remains that human lives – all human lives – have value and all humans deserve to live.
Picard’s idea to relegate addicts who overdose to die, isn’t just an act of cruelty, it’s the first step to a chaotic future that would put every marginalized person in the crossfire. His is the (re)opening salvo in a war against, not just addicts, but the mentally ill and disabled.
During Ronald Reagan’s administration, the mentally ill were abandoned and spread to the wind rather than given the care they needed because the administration viewed treating the mentally ill as too costly. This is a repeat of that time, although this time around, addicts – many of whom have co-occurring disorders – are left, literally, to die.
Treating addiction as a failure of willpower and morality does as much damage to the drug addict as the drugs themselves do, encouraging them to continue using drugs because they feel that they’re weak and not capable of getting clean. To paraphrase the book Narcotics Anonymous, when addiction is treated like a moral failure, addicts are driven into despair.
Dehumanizing drug addicts by essentially saying that we’re unworthy of life or that we’re a drain on society, doesn’t make the addiction epidemic any better–it contributes nothing to the fight and only makes things worse. On average, drug addicts have lower self-esteem than non-addicts and building up a drug addict’s self-esteem helps them be more successful in achieving permanent recovery and helps prevent relapsing.
As a person in recovery, I learned that I needed to build up a healthy view of myself. I couldn’t view myself as any worse, or better than other people and still be on the road to recovery. This is an important part of the picture that many non-addicts miss: we use to make ourselves feel better about ourselves.
By dehumanizing us, all that Dan Picard and the people who think like him have done, is justified a drug addict’s usage. To truly be successful in challenging the addiction epidemic, addicts and non-addicts need to change how we view drug addiction. We need to see drug addiction as a disorder, rather than a personal failure.
Author Bio: Princess Harmony is an artist and writer in recovery. Her hobbies include designing stickers, obsessing over anime, and collecting disco records. In addition to being a person in recovery, she’s also your run-of-the-mill fat nerd girl!