On Thursday, Oct. 9, the BDN posted a video featuring Maine people who have overcome their addictions. Over the following week or so, we were inundated with responses from viewers. In total, more than 50 people wanted to tell us how they think Maine can better help those experiencing addiction. They also shared how addiction has touched their lives.
Addiction “brought me to my knees,” one person wrote to us.
When one woman’s son started drinking, she said, “The chaos, havoc, fear, sadness and anguish it brought to our family was so heart wrenching; to see him suffer was almost more than we could take.”
Another woman described how the hardest task, once she got sober, was learning to love herself again.
We heard from someone whose relative became addicted to heroin, lost medical coverage, became homeless and lost her children. “We don’t know from day to day if she is even alive,” this person wrote. Another person gave the view from the other side: “[Addiction] about killed me and made my whole family sick as well. The not knowing if I was still alive crushed them.”
One person wrote that addiction is “everywhere I go, whether I see it or not.”
We also heard from many people who gave us hope. One wrote, “If I can change, anyone can, with determination and support. They have to want it, though. No one can want it for them.” Another wrote, “Thankfully, after a long process of trial and error, my son found the help he needed. He has now completed his college degree and is working in his field.”
We asked what Maine can do to help people experiencing addiction, and the responses centered on familiar themes: improved access to health care and long-term rehabilitation facilities and greater awareness and education about addiction.
Here are 29 of your responses about what we can all do in our everyday lives and what role government should play. They have been slightly edited for style, clarity and length:
Education, general support
— Continue to educate the community about addiction and what it does to a person. Stop blaming the person.
— It is such a multifaceted issue, and you need multiple strategies to address it. We need to lift people up, which could be as simple as listening or doing healthy activities, but it needs to be addressed as a community.
— Spreading knowledge and information about the disease of addiction and its impacts on not just the people around the addict/alcoholic but the person suffering firsthand. When we do not know of other ways to deal with our pain, we resort to the one way that we become accustomed to.
— Be open minded.
— A concerted effort is needed to de-stigmatize drug addiction. Employers need to be encouraged to give people a shot at employment despite a past criminal record that was related to their addiction.
— Provide a variety of help to people experiencing addiction through all forms of communication, including phone, email or text, face to face, male or female, anonymous, scheduled, unscheduled, etc. Provide opportunities for education on counseling.
— Be more understanding, become better educated about addiction, so there aren’t so many judgments.
— We need more support groups available at all hours.
— Educate people to lock up all medications, including over-the-counter medications and medical marijuana. The state should have a media campaign about this. Keep drugs out of the reach of others.
— Treat people as sick, not as criminals.
— Stop stigmatizing methadone use. It’s a medication many people use for pain. It’s also used to help people get off heroin. Used in either manner, methadone is not itself a drug of abuse and should not be referred to as “an addiction” any more than a diabetic would refer to insulin as “addictive.”
— Know it is only to be expected that humans will experience some backsliding along the road to freedom from street drugs, just as they do when quitting cigarettes, alcohol or fattening foods.
— Know there is life after addiction, that the user you see on the street can overcome the addiction and be an asset to society. Educate people with these videos, share their stories and help people understand this could be them, their children, grandchildren, parents. Unless we come together and help society understand this is a very serious problem all over the country, it’s not going to go away. Shunning the clinics and group homes in our towns is not going to help. If anything, we need more. Let’s show more success stories and let people know it takes time to recover. But once you do, the sky is the limit.
— Know that, sometimes, just because a doctor gives pills doesn’t mean they are safer.
— Stop the war on people who are abusing drugs.
— Treat people with addiction as people. Help them secure employment, even if it’s a couple of hours a week volunteering at a place they are familiar with, such as soup kitchens, food pantries, etc. I think being with kind people who do not look at them as scum can show them hope.
— Teach younger people healthy coping skills and problem-solving skills. We need communities to rally together and let everybody know it’s OK to ask for help when you need it.
— More help paying for detox and rehabilitation services.
— There are a lot of things that can affect those suffering from addiction. The main question is: Are we willing to spend the money to create feasible rehabilitation programs and facilities to help those who are addicted?
— Financial support for longer term rehabs. For anyone not on MaineCare, these rehabs are not possible. No one can miss months of work and still have a job. Yet these safe environments — where people can focus only on getting clean — are very much needed at the beginning of recovery. It is not easy or fun to give up the drug of choice. It’s unimaginable at first. Try doing it working full time. Some can, but most will fail.
— Courts should try and force rehab or treatment as often as possible for drug-related crimes, at least those that are non-violent. Sometimes your first glimpse of recovery needs to be forced. But attend enough meetings, forced or otherwise, and it will stick with you. You will know there is a better way, and many will eventually seek it.
— More treatment: in-house, long-term.
— Open up more long-term rehabs that don’t have replacement therapy as their protocol.
— Help the Bangor Area Recovery Network support those overcoming the anxiety and depression associated with addiction.
— Don’t take away MaineCare for those trying to get clean and stay clean.
— Provide real therapy and counseling along with methadone treatment. The methadone clinics aren’t doing enough of it.
— Provide more rehabs that connect with each other and help lessen the gap between hitting bottom and getting help.
— Make treatment more widely available and accessible, especially to those without insurance. Provide prevention and education services at a very young age, through schools and the community, and educate parents, not just kids.
The community has valuable ideas about how we address drug addiction. Reflected here is a desire for greater access to treatment. There’s also a desire for more enhanced public understanding, to reduce the stigma that makes it so difficult for some to seek help. Perception matters.
How are you working to reduce that stigma? Let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Keep the conversation going.