Dear Future Mr. or Madame President,
As you are well aware, the future of our nation will soon rest in your hands. What you may not know is that the future of a specific group of over 23.5 million people, their families, spouses and children will soon be impacted by your decisions, as well.
We’re referring to the people affected by our country’s most neglected disease: addiction.
You see, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA’s) National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 23.5 million people in our country needed treatment for drug or alcohol addiction in 2009. However, of these Americans in need, only about 11 percent received treatment for it at a specialty facility. Think if only 11 percent of those diagnosed with cancer received treatment – or if roughly one in ten Americans diagnosed with diabetes received proper care. As a world leader, these figures simply don’t represent what we strive towards and value.
Americans are sick with a disease that has for so long been labeled as moral failing, character flaws and criminal behavior. Our loved ones, our mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, friends, spouses and neighbors are dying from drug overdoses. In 2010, over 38,000 people lost their lives to drug overdoses in the U.S. – and overdose deaths from opioids have become the fastest growing drug problem in our country. It’s a problem not just in urban areas, but in every small town from coast to coast and both non-contiguous states.
Outside of the personal aspect, between workplace costs, healthcare costs and criminal justice costs, prescription opioid abuse and addiction are costing our country nearly $55.7 billion.
I know our leaders have taken steps to address the “opioid epidemic” in our nation, but what has been done to address the epidemic of addiction? Not the drug – but the disease? Why are we taking on the drug when our problem involves so much more?
Once you understand addiction, you understand that it isn’t all about the substances. It’s about the people. Addiction is about the underlying issues that lead our loved ones to use substances: mental health disorders, behavioral disorders and trauma. Taking that first drink of alcohol or trying a drug for the first time is most often a choice, but developing an addiction is never a choice, a lifestyle, a decision or an option. No one chooses to become addicted and lose family, friends, jobs or joy to a pill, a drink or a substance.
I urge you to look at our nation’s problem as an epidemic of addiction, not just an epidemic of drugs – in hopes that more resources will be aimed towards long-term treatment options and professional, physiological and medical help for those who are suffering.
Our country has, for so long, fought a “War On Drugs”, but it’s done nothing to help curb or treat addiction. This is because drugs aren’t the disease – addiction is; Drugs are only part of the problem.
Mr. or Madame President, I realize that your time as our leader will be short in comparison to the amount of time addiction has plagued our country – but I truly believe that you have the power to put the mechanisms in place that could build a more comprehensive approach to saving our nation from this epidemic of addiction. We ask that you take the time to listen to the 23.5 million people suffering from addiction, their families and their friends. We ask that you help.