War on Recovery

If the providers treating cancer were offered 26 billion dollars with 55% of the budget going to ineffective treatment methods and policies that perpetuate the illness and the other 45% of the budget will be spent on one treatment outcome and not allowed to focus on any other outcomes, what do you think those providers would do?  Yet, this is the model we use to address the issue of drug prevention and treatment.  What’s worse yet, is addiction/recovery providers fight over this model.  It’s the lesser of two evils.  Get no money or get the money you can.  In the meantime, our prison population housing drug offenders is at an all time high.  Addicts are overdosing at an alarming rate and the people who need the treatment aren’t getting it because the many being referred to treatment by the judicial system do not need treatment. This would be humorous if it wasn’t so tragic.

27 years ago I went into treatment for addiction.  I spent 29 days in a hospital based program.  I lost my health insurance after I left the hospital so I was unable to afford the aftercare that was recommended when I left.  Instead I became immersed in AA meetings and the recovery community.  I was active and involved in many of the extra benefits that come with involvement such as coffee shop meetings, service work, cookouts, and sober parties and dances that I believe are an integral part of recovery.  I also believe this would not work for everyone who needs treatment for addiction.  Recovering people are individuals that have specific needs so one model isn’t sufficient.  I had to abstain from the beginning of my recovery so I fit the model.  Not everyone can begin with abstinence or needs abstinence.  Some need methadone, some need mental health treatment and medication, some need harm reduction.  Not all cancer patients need the same type of treatment why would a recovering individual?

We spend over $100 a day for incarceration of drug offenders.  It would cost us $7.46 a day to provide treatment to that same individual.  Let me state that when I use the term drug it includes alcohol.  Separating alcohol from drugs perpetuates too many myths that follows the criminalizing of addiction/recovery.  The myths are used in our terminology when describing addiction/recovery versus other illnesses.  Take cancer for example cancer, these are the most common words used; Brave, Courageous, Conqueror, Survivor, Victim, Warrior, Patient.  Now consider the terms used to describe the addict/recovering individual; Weak, Junkie, Addict, Liar, Manipulator, Loser, Scumbag.  Makes you want to run right to your local treatment provider!

We have approximately 8 million people who need treatment in the U.S. and about 2 million of them are receiving treatment.  Of those 37% come from the criminal justice system.  This year approximately 1.6 million people will be diagnosed with cancer.  Using the addiction statistics that would mean 400,000 people would receive treatment.  Medical Doctors are the standard for diagnosing cancer. In many areas of the country diagnosing an addict only takes a Bachelor’s degree with one year of addiction employment.  That statement is not meant to be offensive but to illustrate that the U.S. still relies on the criminal justice model instead of a national health model.

As recovering people we have to disengage from the criminal justice model of treatment and recovery and engage in the science of addiction and recovery.  We can’t yell out one side of out mouth that addiction is a disease and out of the other side keep telling people who relapse they aren’t willing.  If we are going to keep eliciting change for recovery we have to remove this idea of addiction being a willful behavior.  Until we do this we aren’t waging a war on drugs, we are waging a war on recovery!

Mike Tozer

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