Guest editorial: A call to change your mind
January 6, 2017
Parents, siblings, spouses, coworkers, friends — these are people who may be affected by addiction. With one in seven Americans diagnosed with substance abuse, addiction affects more people than all types of cancers combined and it's likely that we're in daily contact with someone currently suffering from addiction, or who will be in the future. It's fortunate we are learning more than ever about how to help those afflicted.
Historically, our society has treated addiction and misuse of alcohol and drugs as symptoms of moral weakness, or rejection of societal norms. The recently released, first-ever 'Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General's Report on Alcohol, Drugs & Health' offers a new vantage point with a clear conclusion – addiction to alcohol or drugs is a chronic, but treatable, brain disease that requires medical intervention, not moral judgement.
This report is hallmark because not since the 1970s, when Nixon first declared a war on drugs, has this issue been in the limelight at a national level. The war on drugs historically has focused on law enforcement. We're now seeing a shift towards helping people through addiction with policy framework, treatment and support services.
We know that substance abuse and addiction is a major issue in Colorado's resort and rural communities. The Report is helping open up the conversation, giving us opportunity to move beyond the historical silence about how to treat the disease, and how treatment is paid for. New policies are now developing and emerging for the first time. In a sense, it's as if we're finally owning up to the fact that addiction is a local issue, impacting individuals in our communities and in our everyday lives.
Adopting the finding that addiction is a treatable brain disease and not a moral failing can help us get beyond judging and instead allow us to provide real help.
Shaming someone struggling with addiction doesn't address the underlying physical problems that medical treatment does. The big shift in thinking can lead us to encourage people to seek help for addiction without the burden of a stigma attached.
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We need also explore and focus on community-wide solutions. Financially, communities benefit from investing in evidence-based preventative services and treatments. Research shows that every dollar spent in evidence-based programs can save up to $10 in treatment costs. Additionally, addiction recovery has many other positive health, social and financial benefits for our colleagues and communities.
The Surgeon General's report helps us understand the physical basis of addiction and the need to treat it medically, and also gives us hope in its positive vision for the future. This vision includes having addiction prevention programs and policies in place, providing the evidence-based behavioral and medical treatments, and facilitating recovery that helps individuals—and ultimately our communities—sustain long-term wellness.
Addiction is a disease that can be prevented, that can be treated. Treatment is available in our communities. Recovery is not easy, but it is real. Let us all embrace both the conversation and the vision. Now is the time to make the change for the health and wellbeing of Colorado.
Sharon Raggio, a licensed professional counselor, is President and CEO of Mind Springs Health, the largest provider of mental health and addiction treatment on Colorado's Western Slope. A nationally-known policy expert, she serves on numerous local and state mental health task forces. Raggio can be reached at SRaggio@MindSpringsHealth.org or 970.319.8216
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