The opioid crisis CAN NOT be fixed until we recognize how mental illness plays a roll in addiction.
The government and society need to address mental illness and understand how that plays a roll in the opioid crisis. Until that happens, funerals and family destruction will not stop.
You might say, “Drugs are a choice, it’s the pharmaceutical companies to blame, he’s just making bad choices, the kid is spoiled, he should have just stopped, bad parenting, etc.”
For people with a drug “problem” the above is mostly true. A drug problem is totally different than a person using drugs to self-medicate for a mental illness.
Let me explain a drug problem compared to a person self-medicating for a mental illness.
WHAT IS A DRUG PROBLEM?
When a person has a drug problem, you can get them physically clean, educate them, open their eyes to how they are hurting their family, kids, themselves, how their life will look in the future, etc, and with help from family and friends, the light-bulb goes off and they stop the destructive use of narcotics. Drug programs like AA, NA, teach willpower and a person with a drug problem needs willpower, support, and eventually they change.
WHAT IS SELF-MEDICATING FOR A MENTAL ILLNESS?
Study after study shows that a person with a mental illness uses drugs to self-medicate and we need to recognize the difference between a person with a drug problem and a person with a mental illness.
There will always be doubters, people who don’t want to follow the latest data, and people stuck in the 1970’s. People often say, “how can a person be drug free for years and then they relapse, how is that a mental illness?” Look at Robin Williams and Anthony Bourdain, they were both drug users and stopped for years, but never got the help for the underlying mental illness they had.
I ask all the families I work with, what is the underlying issue with your child? I want to know WHY he, or she, are using drugs. Are they experimenting, going through a phase, or do they have a mental illness? All of the above can be treated.
Treating a drug problem is easy to treat compared to treating a person using drugs to self-medicate because of mental illness. Time, education, willpower and support usually solve most drug problems, but self-medicating mental illness is a whole different issue.
Drug use due to a mental illness should be treated just like any other DISEASE. We treat cancer, diabetes, heart disease, etc. with certain protocols that we know work. Why aren’t we treating drug users who have a mental illness the same way?
I hear people say, “they made the choice to use drugs, why should I pay for something they caused, they can stop if they want.” THAT’S BULLSHIT.
With the premise in the paragraph above, why do we treat lung cancer patients when they smoke and we know smoking causes lung cancer? Why do we treat diabetes when we know overeating and obesity cause diabetes? We treat those diseases because there is no stigma attached to them. Sadly, mental illness has a stigma and that is sad.
WHAT’S THE FIX:
EDUCATION, EDUCATION, EDUCATION. There is a stigma around drug use that goes back generations. When you mention drug abuse to the older generation they think of the guy with a needle in his arm, dirty, and on the streets. The younger generation looks at a drug user and says, never me, they are the low-life’s, they can stop. The first step in the fix is to stop judging people with mental illness and treat the disease they have.
I educate people by showing them a person who is obviously a drug abuser, maybe from a family they know, or a homeless man they see in their neighborhood, or even taking them to the VA. I then say, if that person had cancer, would you look at them the same way you normally do? Probably not. You’d feel compassion and want to help.
A person might not have outward signs of a mental illness. He or she might have bipolar disorder, major depression disorder, personality disorder, schizophrenia, etc. A person not getting the proper help, will try and self-medicate. The pain is just too great. This has absolutely nothing to do with willpower. It is a disease. You can’t willpower cancer or heart disease away, just like you can’t willpower mental disease away.
Insurance companies and healthcare professionals need to recognize mental illness for what it is and understand the root cause. Insurance companies need to pay for the treatment just like they pay for a heart attack, cancer, or a stomach ailment.
The shame and stigma of mental illness has to be eliminated. Most people are scared to tell someone they have demons or have a mental illness they can’t control. Recent studies show that middle and upper-class people are the fastest growing population using drugs. Why? Because mental illness doesn’t know age, race, or social status. A disease, is a disease, is a disease.
Lets get to the WHY and treat the DISEASE.
About the author: Larry Lawton is an Author, TV Personality, Speaker, Teen/Young Adult Expert and Law Enforcement Consultant. Larry developed the nationally recognized Reality Check Program and Reality Check Video Card Program.
Larry Lawton appears regularly on national TV and Radio as an expert on teen issues, crime, schools and community policing. ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, CNN, MSNBC — CLICK HERE to see Larry Lawton on TV
In August of 2013, Larry was the first ex-con in the United States to be sworn in as an Honorary Police Officer in the city of Lake Saint Louis, Missouri and in November 2013, Larry was the first ex-con recognized on the Floor of the United States Congress for his work with helping young people and law enforcement agencies.
Corporate & Keynote Speaking – Larry Lawton brings the most entertaining, inspirational, motivational and informative stories to audiences throughout the United States and around the world. Contact Larry for availability and cost at 844-922-4800 or Larry@Lawton911.com