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The past five years of my family’s life has been a harrowing experience.
The youngest of my three children struggled with feelings of low self-worth, social anxiety, and depression beginning in elementary school. Like many others with similar feelings, he began self-medicating with prescription drugs as a late teen, namely OxyContin he found in friend’s medicine cabinets and on the street.
The most desired method of administering the drug was smoking, and, despite a court order in 2007 for Purdue Pharma to pay over $600 million in damages, OxyContin remains Purdue’s highest selling prescription medication; a billion dollar per year industry.
By the time manufacturers changed the formula to curb abuse of OxyContin, it was too late for many, many people. My son Thom was one of the unlucky. He was addicted, and since he could no longer get his fix, he ended up being introduced to shooting/ slamming black tar heroin.
Like many people addicted to heroin who try to function, he started using “dope” – known as meth – to counter the effects of heroin.
At first glance, many may be inclined to think, “He made a poor choice and should live with the consequences”.
This is where we are failing our youth, our children, and ourselves.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse asserts, “Addiction is a chronic, often relapsing, brain disease that causes compulsive drug-seeking and use despite harmful consequences to the addicted individual and to those around him or her. Although the initial decision to take drugs is voluntary for most people, the brain changes that occur over time challenge an addicted person’s self-control and hamper his or her ability to resist intense impulses to take drugs.”
Addiction is a sneaky disease. Beginning as an escape from your reality, or yourself, you become a slave to the next fix. The first time my son used may have been a choice – maybe even the first few times – but I can guarantee that having drugs take over his life was not in his plans.
In 2010, approximately 16 million Americans reported using a prescription drug for non-medical reasons in that
year; 7 million said they’d abused prescription drugs in the past month. (National Institute on Drug Abuse NIH).
June 2, 2011 “The Guardian” reported- The Global Commission on Drug Policy argued that the decades old “global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world.”
The 19-member commission is critical of the U.S., saying the U.S. must lead by changing its anti-drug policies from an “anti-crime” focus to one rooted in health care and human rights.
May 29, 2013, The Commission called for decriminalization of drug use and an expansion of science-based solutions proven to reduce Hepatitis C—sterile syringe access, safer injection facilities and prescription heroin programs. “Drug War Policies in the US, Russia, and China cause millions of needless infections- globally, 10 out of 16 million people who inject drugs have Hepatitis C, [citing] mass incarceration of non-violent drug-users plays a major role in spreading the pandemic.”
Another article, published March 24, 2014 in the “Huffington Post” states, “as the number of people convicted of drug offenses has gone up, the federal prison population has increased — almost 790 percent”.
Today, the United States has 760 prisoners per 100,000 citizens. To put this into perspective, Japan’s has 63, Germany- 90, France- 96, South Korea- 97, Britain- 153, Mexico-208, and Brazil- 242.
Pat Robinson of The 700 Club is quoted saying, “[Americans] make up 5% of the world’s populations but we make up 25% of the world’s jailed prisoners.”
More than half of America’s inmates today are in prison for drug convictions. In 2010, more than 1.6 million people were arrested for drug offences. That is the equivalent of one drug arrest every 19 seconds. (Stopthedrugwar.org)
The criminalization of drug possession is failing our people, our families, our community. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “estimates of the total overall costs of substance abuse in the United States, including productivity and health- and crime-related, exceed $600 billion annually.”
This year, the Drug Policy Alliance made a press release stating: “There is simply no good basis in science, health or ethics for bringing someone into the criminal justice system solely for drug possession. Decriminalizing drug possession can provide several major benefits for public safety and health, such as:
• Significantly reducing the number of people arrested and incarcerated
• Increasing uptake into drug treatment
• Reducing criminal justice costs and redirecting resources from criminal justice to health systems
• Redirecting law enforcement resources to prevent serious and violent crime
• Addressing racial disparities in drug law enforcement and sentencing, incarceration and related health outcomes
• Minimizing stigma and creating a climate in which people who use drugs are less fearful of seeking and accessing treatment, utilizing harm reduction services and receiving HIV/AIDS services
• Protecting people from the wide-ranging and debilitating consequences of a criminal conviction.”
U.S. jurisdictions with reduced penalties for possession are found to NOT have higher rates of drug use. In fact, many states that treat possession as a misdemeanor have slightly lower rates of illicit drug use and higher rates of admission into treament programs than those who consider possession a felony.
Between March 20, 2012 and Apri 16, 2013, my son was booked and released six times for the “victimless crime” of drug possession and use. As the parents of someone addicted to heroin, we did the only thing we knew to do; try to convince him to go to rehab.
We did not enable him by providing a roof over his head. Our son was homeless.
At court sentencing, he was NOT ordered rehab. He was sentenced to 90 days in jail (of which he served only one day and was released).
During that time, when the District Attorney’s office asked him where he saw himself in five years if he continues on this path, our son answered, “dead” – and yet there was still no offer for help for him or us.
His release from jail moved him into a work release program and on probation. For a person who is drug-addicted to be expected to follow-through on work release is a one-way ticket to failure.
My son did, indeed, fail to complete work release and to keep in touch with his probation officer, partially due to being homeless and having his cell phone stolen, in addition to his suffering from addiction.
His second arrest for possession and being under the influence was Sept. 11, 2012. When my son cried as he was arrested, the officer laughed at him and questioned, “This is your bottom? This is nothing.”
At Christmas that year, our boy came home in full-blown withdrawal saying he wanted to get clean, but worried that he had already cost us enough and he wanted to do it on his own instead of an expensive rehab program.
After a few days, we realized that what was experiencing was more than withdrawal symptoms; he was incredibly sick, and we took him to a clinic where he was diagnosed with pneumonia. He was put on antibiotics and we went to a health food store to get advice and supplements to help him detox from the heroin.
It was a painful process for everyone, and we took shifts being up with him around the clock when he was too weak on his 6’2″ frame to even stand.
In early January he was back out on the streets. His next arrest was Jan. 17, 2013, then March 16, April 11, and five days later, on April 16, 2013.
He called us in tears saying he was ready to get clean. The next day, we took him to the HOPE van where he was seen by Dr. Sand, and was accepted into the Suboxone Program, but were told there was no appointment until May 1.
May 1 seemed like a lifetime away for someone who is in crisis, and crying for help, but we waited and met with Dr. Sand’s assistant, Jenny, for his intake visit where we learned that Thom would have to meet with Dr. Sand before he could begin administering Suboxon to him.
The earliest available appointment was May 29, AND Thom needed to be in full-blown withdrawal for that appointment (meaning he had to keep using)!
We were being asked to wait almost an entire month, praying that the next shot of heroin wouldn’t take our son’s life. We made it and May 29 I accompanied my 119 pound skeleton of a son to see Dr. Sand and begin Suboxin treatment.
We returned the next day for his second dose, and the following day for his third – which happened to be on a Friday – so we were provided doses for the weekend (through Monday).
His next appointment was scheduled for Tuesday. On Tuesday, my husband took Thom to his appointment where they were told, “Oops, sorry about that, the doctor won’t be in today.”
Several days later, we were able to obtain a prescription for Suboxone for one month, making his next scheduled appointment for July 17. But by then our son had lost hope and was shooting up, again.
My son was arrested six times in just over one year for a victimless crime in which he was the victim, crying out for help.
We, his family, are victims of a system that is ineffective and inappropriate. Addiction is a disease of the brain that may people suffer from, be it work, gambling, sex, food, alcohol or drugs.
The current trend in our country of criminalizing drug use and possession is doing nothing to curb drug use. We are the nation with the highest rate of drug offenders in a time that other countries’ rates are declining. Addiction doesn’t discriminate. It can happen to anyone’s family. Chances are you know at least one person in your life who is struggling, now.
Yesterday it was my son. Will it be yours, tomorrow?
Pamela Jones lives and works in Redding.