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Home » Opinion: Addiction is not just under bridges, it is in our homes – Austin American-Statesman

Opinion: Addiction is not just under bridges, it is in our homes – Austin American-Statesman

The seeming increase in reports from the press about alcohol and drug use and abuse is a double-edged sword.
On the one hand, raising awareness of substance use and substance use disorder creates opportunities for the person suffering the disease and/or their loved ones to act, and creates a greater imperative for public action. On the other hand, these same reports unintentionally reinforce long-held attitudes about alcohol and drug use and abuse that create barriers to access to treatment or, worse, reinforce stereotypes that prevent the addict from seeking help.
We all have read these stories, but to make the point, let us review one. Specifically, “Detroit drug pipeline targets North Dakota Native Americans. How they’re fighting back”; Sept. 24, 2021 in The Louisville Courier Journal.
Warren reviews the story of a Native American woman introduced to fentanyl following an injury who subsequently developed an addiction. The article includes reports of the drug cartels that supply the reservation on which the woman lived and died.
Fentanyl, a Schedule II narcotic, is increasingly popular, increasingly supplied by secondary sellers and is partially responsible for the increase in overdose deaths during COVID-19.
However, are the other messages contained in the story familiar? The report involves a young female, describes a woman who is an ethnic minority and discusses the North Dakota reservation, which creates images of poverty. It involves reports of drug cartels, and engages the Bismarck police department making this a “crime” story.
None of this is incorrect or problematic in itself.In the process, however, it also reinforces stereotypes about young, ethnic, poor people and drug cartels when the majority of drug use, abuse and addiction in America involves a much broader portion of the American public.
Do these skewed impressions create a barrier to an effective, broad-based approach to addiction and recovery?
Consider the 2015 member survey from Narcotics Anonymous. The report notes that the average age of membership was 48 with 59% male, 41% female, 91% employed, enrolled in school, parenting or retired. Ethnicity was 74% Caucasian, 11% African American, 6% Hispanic, 3% Asian American and 1% Native American.
  The report shows that NA members are not young, ethnic, unemployed and crime involved, but match the American population to a great extent. We do not focus on the over-representation of whites in this survey as it may reflect unequal access to treatment and, therefore, to recovery.
Consider, too, the use of drugs among the working population. Our analysis suggests that if one tested a normalized sample of 100 employees on an average workday, 44 of them would be at risk of failing that random drug test.
Given these data, the report from Narcotics Anonymous, behavior in the workplace and knowing that 27 million Americans are suffering substance use disorder, it is highly unlikely that young, minority, poor females represent the majority of substance use, abuse and addiction in America.
A 2020 study by the North Carolina Community Action Association sums it up well, “Most people struggling with addiction live in a home, have a job and have at least some level of education. What causes or leads someone to be addicted or use drugs has more to do with their genetics, environmental influences, mental health, education, stress and parental substance abuse.”
To be certain, this is not a critique of the commercial press … Further, reports like that of Ms. Warren are about very genuine issues, historic and inexcusable racism, illegal organizations loosely and not so loosely organized, making profit at the expense of the lives of many, many people. They are to be applauded for surfacing these stories and promoting national awareness of drug and alcohol addiction. Brava! Our point is that this should not mask the breadth of drug addiction in America.
Drug and alcohol use, abuse, and addiction are not only on the reservation or under the highway but in your neighborhood, in your church/synagogue/mosque, in your school, in your workplace and in your home. The first step in an effective national approach is admitting the problem — honestly. 
Gilchrist  is the Chief Executive Officer for Stay Clean, a cloud-based addiction treatment and recovery community.

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