by Joshua Hoe
Is it time for our first “Addiction President?” What would an “Addiction President” look like?
Rumor has it we are about to enter the general election cycle.
But, instead of wading into the personality contest that has become our official election process, I am going to make a few suggestions of ways a new President could make a real difference in helping addicts and in reducing the problems associated with addiction in this country.
My suggestions would work if the party was GOP or Democratic or if the nominee were named Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, or Bernie Sanders.
So much of what comes out of Washington is really about wanting to be seen as doing something about addiction without really risking any political capital on solutions. So often, politicians talk a good game but, in the end, done’t want to be seen as “soft” on addicts.
None of these would be simple, but they would all have the distinction of actually having the potential to make a difference.
1. An “Addiction President” Would Publically Embrace Therapy
On the West Wing, President Bartlett had to sneak a therapist into the White House to get help with his sleep problems. But, for many addicts, one of the biggest barriers is confronting the social norm that people should handle their own problems.
More dangerous, the things society least wants people to “put out on the street” are our emotions. Addiction often comes from the inability to process our emotions in healthy ways (like through therapy).
Given the ungodly stress POTUS deal with on a daily basis (almost all Presidents appear to age decades during their 4-year terms), it would be healthy to have a trained professional (fully vetted) to talk to every week.
But, more important is the symbolic effect it could have on society. If it became an expectation that every POTUS attended therapy regularly it could start to break down the norm that both asking for help with emotional problems and not dealing with your own problems are signs of weakness.
2. An “Addiction President” Would Stop Pretending Addiction is a Crime (And Not a Disease)
When addicts commit crimes, they should absolutely be punished for whatever they did that put people at risk.
Addiction itself, however, should not be criminalized. The experts all agree, addiction is a disease, not a moral failing.
I am so tired of politicians telling a personal story of how addiction has affected them or their family followed almost immediately by them suggesting only a slightly less draconian way to address addiction.
I am sorry, instituting deferred sentencing or alternative courts for first-time offenders is not a solution. It is magical thinking to assume that recovery works in a straight line.
That magical thinking follows a line something like this:
Addicted – Go Get Help = Recovery + Nobody moral ever relapses after they recover, so = fine to punish second-time users.
Recovery, IMHO does not work like this. What recovery is about is progress, not perfection. Many wonderful people take years before they find long-term recovery.
Addiction is really a neurological pathway that has been created between the way an addict feels and the desire to act out. Recovery is an ongoing exercise in building new pathways and investing them with the muscle-memory to become dominant over time.
A week in rehab (usually at an astronomical cost) can start the process of recovery but it cannot build the muscle memory necessary to imbue new pathways with power.
And, more important, the War On Drugs doesn’t work, has never worked, and will never work (I have written at length about this in other places). This failure has come at the cost of millions of people in this country and across the world on both sides who have either died, been shot, or been put in prison.
So, it would make a BIG difference is a President, preferably in the State Of The Union, said the following things:
* Everyone in the United States should be responsible for the actions that they take that hurt other Americans, but addiction itself should no longer be considered a crime.
* Addiction is not a moral failing, and relapse is not, in and of itself, a crime.
3. An “Addiction President” Would Make Mental Health Care A Right
I love how all the pro-gun and anti-gun politicians can all agree on one thing, “we need to do something about mental health in America.”
Okay, stop talking and start doing something. Make mental health care a right.
Most people’s health care barely covers mental health care and when it does, it is usually almost impossible to find reputable therapists that accept insurance.
We have to do better at ensuring people have access to mental health care.
Many, if not most, addicts are struggling with formative traumas that inform how they interpret everything that happens to them on a daily basis. Learning how to talk about and address those formative traumas is very important.
Obviously, this is not just about addicts. The state of mental health care in America should be an international embarrassment.
The vast majority of mental health treatment in this country is left to pharmacology, jails, and prisons. I dare you, just once, to go visit the mental health block of your local jail and take a look at how we really treat mental illness in this country.
Whenever you hear a politician talk about needing to “look at” mental health care that is really code for “we don’t want to do anything at all.”
The President should be first in line to make a real difference.
4. An “Addiction President” Would Create Meaningful And Healthy Treatment Centers
Many other countries in the world have experimented with treatment, substitution plans, and needle exchanges for drug addicts and in almost every instance, the plans worked.
A President who really cared about these citizens and about helping addicts would announce pilot programs along the lines of what Portugal has done.
BTW: I Don’t agree with everything Hari thinks but I do especially believe these three things:
1. The Opposite of addiction is connection
2. If you had to design a system that made addiction worse, the system we have now is that system. We pile shame and isolation on people who are triggered by shame and isolation (like me).
3. Portugal, in terms of addiction, could be the USA but for our societal commitment to continued cruelty.
For addictions that are not about a substance, the President should work with experts in those areas to come up with meaningful public treatment alternatives and social reintegration programs that work. The reason for doing this is pretty simple, it can only make things better (for society and for the addict).
Just imagine the social costs of a drug overdose, if you can reduce the likelihood of an overdose happening at a lower-cost, why wouldn’t you do it.
5. Hire a Publically Recovered Addict At The Cabinet Level
Look, I don’t think any of this is likely to happen. In fact, part of writing this is to point out how hollow most political pronouncements about addiction really have been.
But, I think it would send a pretty strong message that we ought to embrace, reintegrate, and accept addicts if the POTUS embraced a recovered addict and put them in a position of importance.
Okay, So What Is My Real Project Here
As I just said, none of this will likely happen. But what will happen is a bunch of politicians trotting out their personal (and often tearful) stories about addicts in their families.
Many of these same politicians will later be seen making a pilgrimage to Arizona in order to obtain the blessing of the same Sheriff that made those women, mentioned in the Hari video, work on modern-day chain gangs wearing T-shirts designed to shame their addictions.
What I am really saying is that you can believe a politician is serious about addiction once they start doing any of the things I mentioned above.
The rest is just political theater and lip-service.
What do you think of my list? What would you add? Let me know what you think, leave a comment!