Of course it’s a disease. How Jersey can beat opioid addiction (Opinion)
New Jersey has no idea of how to treat opioid addiction. Their latest attempt is to at least treat those who are literally dying from it at the point that it's actually happening by giving out free naloxone. That's literally kicking the Narcan down the road.
Giving out naloxone to addicts reminds me of the quote from the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, founder of Taoism. He said, “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” So how can we save an addict from a lifetime of addiction? Here's what I would do.
First treat addiction like the disease that it is. Merriam Webster defines a "disease" as, "a condition of the living animal or plant body or of one of its parts that impairs normal functioning and is typically manifested by distinguishing signs and symptoms." I would say addiction lines up with that.
To those who would say that addicts made a bad choice, there are diseases you can get from choices. AIDS or other venereal diseases come to mind. Is mental illness a disease? It's definitely connected to opioid addiction. But regardless of whether or not you believe addiction is a disease, you need to treat it like one. You wouldn't throw a cancer patient in jail until you can get them a bed, yet that's how New Jersey treats Artie Lange.
Lange came on my show last November announcing that he was going into rehab. Then came a 28 day rehab, then came court appearances where Lange tested positive for cocaine, then came a halfway house which has him dumping garbage and pumping gas. I guess Artie hadn't suffered enough with his addiction, New Jersey felt he needed to be publicly humiliated. Now he waits for the next phase of his court ordered treatment.
That seems be be the cycle of treating addiction in New Jersey, a series of rehabs and halfway houses for not enough time to really do anything. Then when they are released, their drug dealers are waiting for them to begin the cycle again. What if New Jersey were to break the cycle? Here's what I would do:
First bring in the experts and pay them well enough to want to be here. Beating addiction shouldn't only be for those who can afford it. Especially since it's we the taxpayers who pay for those who can't.
Second, the best shot to cure someone's addiction is to get them long term rehab as far away as possible. Since New Jersey isn't the only state dealing with opioid addiction, what if we swapped our addicts to long term treatment facilities in other states for at least a year at a time so that they can get the help they need to finally beat this disease (there I've said it again).
Third, explore the connection between mental illness and opioid addiction. There definitely is one. Finding out why people become addicts is like teaching them how to fish, if I may quote Tzu.
Fourth, remember that today's addict is not just the drudge of society that some would have you believe. Many are people who suffered injuries and were prescribed opioids to deal with pain. Their choice was made by a doctor, who's long out of the picture as their life circles the drain.
I like the idea that by giving out naloxone, New Jersey is the equivalent to just handing addicts a fish. But then it's time to teach and treat themselves so that they'll never need it again. Teach them how to fish.
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