I heard too many times from people struggling with addiction about their challenges getting any help, including even medical services. Nobody is taking their needs seriously. As we know from the American mental health manuals, junkies “always complain and they always lie”.
Recently though several authors came forward with a completely different approach, protesting the dehumanization of those who are self-medicating to the point of losing control over substances which initially helped them to tolerate otherwise unbearable challenges of life. One of the strongest groundbreaking works is “Unbroken Mind”, a book by Maia Szalavitz in which the author successfully compensates for some lack of scientific methodology by the depth of her own personal experiences and those of her close friends.
Without unnecessary dramatization, but with true bitterness of emotions Maia Szalavitz describes countless situations when even those who chose to help those in need professionally failed to humanize those struggling with addiction: “That approach [trust] would have required them to see me as a fellow human being who was ill, not just junkie, and that would have require genuinely individualized therapy, not mechanical following the rules. It was supposedly “professional help” for addiction: a system which calls you “dirty”, assumes that you are a liar, a thief, or something even worse and responds to increasing symptoms by punishment”
After thinking about new appearing trends in understanding addiction, and while listening to the countless complaints even from the people who are capable of taking good care of themselves, I finally decided to explore the situation myself. I had to wait for almost a year until I got an opportunity to experiment in a legally and morally acceptable way, but the result was SO shocking that I honestly believe that it was totally justified.
Several days ago I experienced high blood pressure, feelings of dizziness, some stomach aches and nausea so that I had to call 911. I have experienced similar symptoms pretty frequently in the past, only this time it was much more serious, testing the limits of my physical tolerance. I called 911 in similar situations in the past and doctors considered it totally justified, so the only thing I wanted to modify is to invent a brief history of drug abuse, which I assumed should not have much impact on either the diagnosis nor the actions of the medical professionals. How deadly wrong I was!!
Not having any history of drug abuse, dependencies, or continuous and repeated intake of any drugs, but being familiar with the effect of some of them I decided to claim short-term use of methamphetamine. First, I was treated many years with Adderall which is chemically very similar to meth. Second, meth is considered to be the most dangerous street drug second only to heroine (which I was afraid to claim thinking that nobody would believe me). Third, meth in its pure form, without any additional substances, didn’t have OD, so I believed that it should not become a reason for the excessive worry.
After hearing the word “meth”, the paramedics didn’t want to listen anything else, even though I was talking about occasional use of it during last few months. “Yes, it is exactly what meth does to you” (does it?) – claimed paramedics, and started loudly blaming me, predicting an imminent death from meth, all while we were in my building, which was a gross violation of the HIPAA confidentiality laws. They put me into the EMS truck and, after measuring temperature and blood pressure, demonstratively lost any interest in me.
Hospital personnel did not pay to me any attention either. The only one attempted medical intervention was an ECG, after which somebody who presented herself as a doctor from about 6-7 meters distance told me ‘I see you are doing well”, and then distanced herself even further. Nobody paid any attention to my words no matter what kind of medical complaints I made. Staff didn’t react even when I asked to go to the restroom. Finally, after trying in vain all the possible ways of attracting human attention, I just stood from the gurney and walked away. When I was passing the nursing desk somebody handed me discharge papers, which could have been ready from the beginning. I tossed them to the garbage bin where they belong, thinking that if this is how doctors treat addicts in San Francisco, California, what are the actions of the medical professionals in such cases in places like Alabama or Tennessee?
A member of the San Francisco unhoused community known by her street name Tree once told me: “nobody wants to help addicts. They just want to get rid of us. Sometimes I think that they’re even open to the idea of killing us”. At the time I didn’t take her words seriously. After all, what should you expect from junkies: they lie and complain. Now, after this shocking result of my personal experience, I do not find her thoughts groundless anymore, and if you do not believe me, I suggest you try such experiment yourself. I am pretty sure that the result will be about the same.
We use the phrase opioid epidemic too casually, but it is much more troubling than it appears on first glance, writes the popular blogger Umair Haque. In many countries in the world — most of Asia and Africa — one can buy all the opioids one wants from any local pharmacy, without a prescription. Yet we don’t see opioid epidemics anywhere but America. So the “opioid epidemic” — mass self-medication with the hardest of hard drugs — is again a social pathology of collapse unique to American life. It is not quite captured in the numbers, but only through comparison — and when we see it in global perspective, we get a sense of just how singularly troubled American life really is.
Why would people abuse opioids en masse unlike anywhere else in the world and why is the country with the most advanced science and technology unable to find a way to approach to homelessness and addiction while many poorer and less developed societies are doing significantly better? With all the energy and resources the USA puts into resolving the issues, we should not have even words for homelessness and addiction in American English.
Imagine a person who hates cars, but tries to impress everyone in his life with an immaculate looking vehicle. He does not bother to change oil in time, always hits other cars while parking and keeps spilling ketchup and olive oil all over the seats. He brainstorms the most effective scientific solutions, frequently changing cars, reads the books about car industry and still his car always looks like a piece of junk. You don’t have to be super smart to tell this idiot: “Dude, you have to love your car!” That is the silver bullet, the main secret of Finland, New Zealand, Israel or even poorest countries like Cuba who are doing much better in resolving problems of homelessness and addiction than the leading in every possible field the United States of America.
If you don’t want to see homeless people on the streets, if you want to protect your kids from seeing people taking drugs on the streets, then dude, you have to love your compatriots the way Finns or New Zealanders do. An average Cuban or Israeli will not even think about about calling police right after seeing an emaciated person in their district. As long as you see in homeless people problems you want to get rid of, not Human Beings in desperate need of help, they will remain a problem. Two major things so desperately needed in struggling with homelessness and addiction are dignity and self-respect, and the American society currently takes every opportunity to destroy it. As long as this is so, no wisest governor no most advanced scientific approach will help.