About half of the roughly 58 million Americans with mental illness are active in the workforce. Looking at the average company, you wouldn’t know it. Unless you work for an open-minded boss or a company that actively encourages people to come forward and get help, many workers keep their struggles with depression, anxiety, substance abuse and other issues silent for fear of losing their job, their credibility or opportunities to advance. Although nondisclosure is certainly understandable, there are risks and benefits to consider on both sides.
Although “designer drugs” have been around for decades, newer formulations such as Spice, bath salts and Smiles have become a popular choice among teens and young adults. Designed to mimic the effects of illicit drugs, these drugs are manmade in secret labs and then sold online, at clubs and raves, and in head shops and convenience stores as “incense” or “plant food.” Because their chemical makeup is often unknown and their effects unpredictable, designer drugs can be extremely dangerous.
Millions of people know what it’s like to lose everything to addiction. Millions more know what it’s like to live with a parent or family member who abuses drugs or alcohol. What too many don’t know is how to get better.
In spite of a large body of research showing that addiction is a chronic disease, only one in 10 addicts receives any form of treatment – often, treatment that falls woefully short of what we know works, according to a five-year study by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University.
Rather than helping, most forms of addiction treatment are hindering recovery and costing the public in the process. The CASA report identified the following specific problem areas:
• Stigma – One-third of Americans still regard addiction as a moral failing or a lack of willpower rather than a treatable disease. Addiction affects more Americans than other chronic health conditions, yet the disease is shunned by the medical community, CASA reports. Spending to treat addiction ($28 billion to treat 40 million people) falls far behind other conditions, such as diabetes ($44 billion to treat 26 million people), cancer ($87 billion to treat 19 million people) and heart conditions ($107 billion to treat 27 million people).
It is the sign of a healthy society when government faces its mistakes and develops more effective policies. This is a process we see unfolding as the U.S. government reconsiders its drug policy and sets forth a “new national approach” that focuses on treatment rather than punishment.
In April, the Obama Administration released its 2012 National Drug Control Strategy, which builds on the President’s inaugural National Drug Control Strategy, published in 2010. The strategy is grounded in three research-based premises that are now widely accepted in the treatment field:
• Drug addiction is not a moral failing, but a preventable and treatable chronic brain disease.
• People can and do recover from addiction.
• Criminal justice reforms are needed to stop the cycle of drug use, crime, incarceration and rearrest.
Call it human nature. When something goes wrong, we look for someone to blame. When a child gets in trouble, they are quick to point the finger at a sibling. When a product malfunctions, we sue the manufacturer. So it isn’t surprising that “Pharmageddon” would spark its own type of blame game.
Even though the U.S. government’s War on Drugs started more than 40 years ago, in many ways it has been reborn in new formats. Just as the problem of illegal drug abuse has been met by law enforcement with punitive penalties for nonviolent drug offenders, the prescription drug epidemic has provoked its own type of witch hunt.
Who is responsible? Who can be punished for allowing the nonmedical use of painkillers to take second place as the most prevalent form of drug use in America, even as the War on Drugs rages on?
In the past decade, there has been a 400 percent increase in admissions to drug rehabilitation centers for addictions to prescription pain relievers. We have seen a fivefold increase in hospitalizations and a fourfold increase in overdose deaths related to prescription drugs. Teenagers who used to experiment with illicit drugs like cocaine, meth or heroin now prefer prescription drugs like Vicodin and OxyContin.
We are hearing the alarm bells about prescription drug abuse, but the knee-jerk reaction has been punitive – more law enforcement, monitoring doctors and catching people filling too many prescriptions. Is this the new War on Drugs?