Your Turn, NH -- Susan McKeown: Addiction is Killing our kids; we need to talk

Every other day there is a drug death in New Hampshire. There would be more deaths if those saved by Narcan had not been found in time. (Narcan is the medication that blocks the effect of opiates and reverses respiratory arrest and is currently available only to EMT personnel.) Let us call this what it is: an epidemic that is killing our young people and destroying families.

We need to talk to each other, neighbor to neighbor, friend to friend, co-worker to co-worker, parent to child, teacher to student, employee to employer, health provider to patient, citizen to legislator.

No one wants his or her child to have cancer or heart disease, diabetes or epilepsy. Should that happen, you would seek the best medical care available and call your family and friends asking for support and prayers. In time, there would undoubtedly be a fundraiser to defray unexpected costs, followed by a deluge of cards and casseroles. Such support all bodes well for a positive outcome.

Now tell someone that your child is suffering with addiction. What is the reaction? Shock, disgust, anger, indignation followed by unsolicited advice? Parents who have experienced this are left feeling like a failure, when, in fact, as a parent, you are not in control of this disease.

Like other chronic, relapsing illnesses, if the genetics and biochemistry are present, your child is at high risk, regardless of how good and devoted a parent you are. Addiction knows no boundaries; it is blind to age, race, religion, education or economic status. Anticipating such a response, a parent experiences further isolation, saying nothing, suffering in silence, with nowhere to turn. We need to change this, now.

For the past decade, I have been privileged to co-facilitate a weekly FASTER (Families Advocating Substance Treatment, Education and Recovery) parent support group in Manchester for parents of children, teens and young adults who suffer with substance issues. Week after week, parents confirm what a lonely and isolating disease addiction is.

To be part of a group and hear other parents talk about a child’s use and the impact on the family confirm that you are in a group of people who “get it.” These parents understand the insidious nature of addiction.

One can argue that the first use of a substance may be a choice, but for the physically vulnerable individual, it is no longer a choice. Seeking that first high is the goal of a drug addict. As the disease progresses to using opiates, it then becomes an issue of economics. With pills ranging from $30-$80 each and heroin available for $5-$10 a bag, the choice is easy. Heroin has hijacked the brain. Desperation now drives decisions.

For those of us who have not physically experienced addiction, it is difficult to understand the behavior of an addict; the lying, deception and stealing from those they love. When individuals who have been raised well display such behaviors, and too often die because of them, we, the “lucky ones,” need to try to comprehend the physical and mental obsession of addiction.

We would do well not to criticize, curse or condemn those who suffer. We need to support families dealing with this disease and be aggressive in making treatment available. Just as with other chronic and relapsing illnesses, the medical community needs to have a protocol with which to respond and treat this disease.

Addressing this deadly epidemic begins with compassion, followed by educating ourselves about the disease of addiction and then advocacy to our legislators. In 2002, Senate Bill 153 passed, creating the Alcohol Fund. This law dictates that 5 percent of the profit from the sales of alcohol in our state be put into prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery services for substance use.

This law was fully implemented for one year, 2003. The money has since been diverted into the general fund. We are talking about only 5 percent of the profits! Full funding would result in more than $8 million a year! This drastic reduction means that money for prevention and recovery has been eliminated.

Calling on your representatives and state senator to fully fund the Alcohol Fund in this budget cycle would acknowledge that we citizens recognize addiction as a disease and that it deserves to be treated as such.