Wednesday, July 05, 2006

March 3, 2006

Godspeed to the Victoria Crystal Meth Society, and to any other community group trying to do their part to shake us awake before things get any worse. We need it.
But I do sometimes fear that yet again, we risk losing the opportunity to talk about addiction overall by getting distracted by the latest “most terrible” drug. As awful as crystal meth may be, we’ll never get around to tackling the larger problems of a truly terrible health disaster if we keep up this flavour-of-the-month approach.
Those of you who are old enough to remember the 1960s film Reefer Madness will know what I mean. After that came LSD as the worst drug ever, and later PCP. Crack cocaine had a good run throughout the 1990s. These days, it’s crystal meth.
If only it really was as simple as wiping out a certain drug. Put some really heavy enforcement into something like that and it might even be possible to squelch a particular drug right out of existence.
But for someone who was addicted, it would make no difference whatsoever. They’d just find something else to use. The problem isn’t the drug, it’s addiction.
Putting all our efforts into eradicating a specific drug unfortunately doesn’t get us any further toward dealing with the beast that is addiction. One drug less? A dozen more in waiting.
Or, as happened in Iowa recently when that state cracked down very successfully on sales of ingredients for crystal meth, a new way emerges of finding the drug in question. In that case, the meth started coming up from Mexico, at a higher cost. The result: Meth-related crime rates in Iowa went up.
There’s a poem by Portia Nelson, Autobiography in 5 Short Chapters, that beautifully explains the five stages human beings go through when making change in their life. The process starts at the point where you don’t even know you have to change - that’s stage one. As Nelson so nicely puts it:
“I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost...I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.”
As the poet slowly makes her way down the same potholed street while the stages of change unfold, she eventually starts walking around the hole, and then down another street entirely. The change is complete.
It’s a process that’s particularly apt for people with addictions, and for the people trying to develop services to suit the various stages. But it strikes me that B.C. overall - and really, all of Canada - is stuck in Stage 1 of the progression, failing to see that deep hole in the sidewalk and tripping time and again into one more fruitless crusade against some drug of the moment.
The issue is not drugs; virtually all of us use drugs. The issue is that terrible confluence of genetics, environment and life circumstance that sets a person up for addiction. The studies I’ve seen have put the magic figure at around 13 to 15 per cent of all drug users. Of course, they have no idea on the way in how very hard it’s going to be to get out, or that many will die without ever making it.
If addiction was being seen for what it is - a mental and physical health problem of heartbreaking proportion - then maybe something would have happened by this point. Maybe there wouldn’t be a terrified young Victoria woman holed up with her family in Chilliwack right now wondering how she’s going to keep her addiction at bay for almost three more months while she waits for a publicly funded treatment bed somewhere in B.C.
Instead, we just keep falling into that hole on the street, and looking around for some new drug to blame it on. The truth of it is that we’re barely doing anything about addiction, and certainly nothing that looks like a long-term strategy. Thousands of British Columbians are mired in a miserable, stigmatized existence because there are simply no services for them.
Inhumane, yes. But it’s also costing us dearly in terms of emergency-health spending, court costs, policing and deteriorating community standards. Sick people with no help and little hope don’t always make the best of parents, either, and their children - and theirs in turn - are at risk of becoming the next generation of lost souls.
From all accounts I’ve heard, crystal meth is indeed a terrible drug, most particularly because you don’t have to use it for very long before you’re addicted. But it’s just the latest symptom of a disease that we’ve been refusing to do anything about for nigh on 60 years now, when the first B.C. studies started popping up urging action.
We’ve been falling in this same old hole for long enough. It’s our fault, and we really do need to find a better road.

No comments: