By Phillip Lee
As a recovering addict, I know first-hand the devastation and agony families face all across the United States. I know many think it is of our own free will that we use or used drugs. Many feel that it is a stigma on society, and that those right in the middle of the stigma themselves should be cast aside, thrown in prison for all of life or worse. Many feel that the world would be better off if addicts or recovering addicts would simply disappear from the earth, altogether.
While each American citizen is entitled to feel about this disease as they wish, the facts are here in black and white for anyone to read. The facts are in your communities, neighborhoods and towns. They are in almost every walk of life and in every facet of humanity, and no matter how bad you or I wish there weren’t even such things as addictions or drug abuse. I thought it important to point out that we have not disappeared and no, regardless of what some may choose to believe, we do not deserve to die in prisons because we are addicts, recovering or otherwise.
In my mind and soul I know this is as a disease. Those who think otherwise because they were able to quit, limit or control their using in one manner or the other have not truly fallen victim to the manifestation of the disease. I’ve spoken with hundreds if not thousands of addicts and recovering addicts over the years. Not one of them has said, “I’m sure glad things worked out like this.” Or, “I love being an addict.” Not one that I know has ever wished this dreaded disease on anyone. I’m stuck with it and I sure don’t want it, but here I am, trying to make the best of it — and who knows, maybe persuade the one who has never tried drugs to leave it at that. And if I can help another addict stop using and change his/her life for the better then perhaps my life had greater meaning and purpose after all.
In searching for answers and understanding myself, I’ve acquired a copy of the America’s Health Rankings 2018 Annual Report, compiled by the United Health Foundation. According to the report, Kentucky’s ranking declined from 42nd in 2017 to 45th in 2018, With only Arkansas, Oklahoma, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana ranking lower.
Many factors determine the overall score of the report, including obesity, illnesses and death rates associated with cancer and other diseases, as well as immunizations, physicians, counselors, economic health and other determinants. But here I wanted to express what the drug epidemic is doing to the nation and Kentucky.
It’s crazy out of control. That’s why it is an epidemic. Only Ohio, New Hampshire and West Virginia came in with worse numbers in drug deaths, according to the 2018 report. According to provisional data for 2017, there were 72,000 drug overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2017, a sharp increase from 63,000 the year before. Kentucky’s drug fatality rate in 2018 was 28.6 per 100,000 people. The national average was 16.9 per 100,000.
With trends and numbers like this it seems to me that the only answers will come from working on the problem together, without finger pointing and shaming. Who truly gains from finger pointing? Politicians? Communities? Families? Or the individual? Anyone?
How can a politician who has never been addicted come up with a solution based on his own knowledge or experience? How can law enforcement, doctors or counselors or anyone else come up with a solution to a problem they truly know nothing about on a personal level? They know what they know based on experience and academic education. They know nothing of what is truly going on in an addict’s mind, especially in the split seconds just before their addiction leads them to use again. How could they?
Phillip Lee, a native of Albany, Ky., recently resumed writing his column, “The Journey of an Addict,” after relapsing and going into treatment.