And Death Shall Have no Dominion… (Dylan Thomas)

“Hey man, they’re going to take him off of the ventilator.”

“Take who?” The phone connection was poor and it took several tries to get the name right, and that he had had a serious car accident while high on pain medication. Further information offered was that he had been without oxygen for fifteen minutes prior to the paramedics showing up. For all intents and purposes he was already dead. Last minutes miracles aside, and this is not one of those kinds of stories…the human body cannot live without oxygen. Especially with multiple fractures and breaks in the bones.

My friend on the phone and I were not surprised. We had both had experienced many instances where someone succumb to the evils of drugs and alcohol. We both grieved for this man greatly because he had personally reached out to both of us in his attempt to receive the gift of Recovery. My friend on the phone and I are longtime participants in recovery and have heard this kind of news more times than either of us is comfortable with. The first time either of us heard this kind of news was one too many, let alone the many others up to and including this last gruesome report. The hurt does not diminish with time, nor is there a ready level of acceptance for the situation. We both revel in our recovery and seeing the death of another has a profound effect on us. Thank God!

I write this piece today to attempt, once more, to describe the disease of addiction, and the process of recovery. I have long experience in trying to find words that will convey what it is like to meet the devil, and walk out of hell into the arms of a loving God. I need no affirmations on my life. My life, even when the bad things happen, is great! I do not use the tools of recovery so that someone can tell me what a good person I am. I already know that.

I write this for those who would state the useless. “He/she should have done this…” or “Well, he/she had plenty of chances to get it right and chose to…” these are ineffectual and inept. If it were that easy we would have no prisons, no need for the courts to intervene in people’s lives because they cannot find a way to cease the use of mind-altering, mood-changing substances. Without the experience of addiction there is no way one can understand the insane acts of addicts.

When presented with issues and problems in life addicts use whatever they are addicted to, and they use it until there is no more to be had. That is a fact. The issue is not a moral testament against drug use, but a medical problem where people with this terminal disease cannot stop of their own free will. While the problem is localized in the person, the harm is a societal concern. Why doesn’t society take responsibility for their part?

This is not the ramblings of a “oh woe is me I am an addict…” but a college educated professional who has to watch people suffer and die from a treatable disease. A disease that is deadly without treatment, but pretty wonderful with treatment. My beef today is that this death could have been prevented. The man had a history of prescription narcotic medication abuse and had to have surgery to replace his hip. The only treatment for the pain associated with major orthopedic surgery is the use of his drug of choice. Where was the doctor that released him out into the world re-addicted to the very substance that had almost killed him many times before? We take people with major mental issues and put them in hospitals to treat their maladies. Why do insurance companies only pay for detox when the same numbers that tell them that treatment is not effective also tell them that a simple detox will, most of the time, ensure another visit to the detox center. There are time limits on treatment and those that do not get it well, quite simply, have to just live with it. Is there a time limit on cancer treatment? Would you cease or deny treatment to a patient with emphysema because the cost of oxygen went up?

Treatment is available all over the place you might say, and you would be right. What if you don’t have insurance? Treatment centers charge exorbitant rates for those who have insurance or have the money to pay. If neither (ins/pay) is possible it then falls to social services and there is usually a waiting list that might take weeks. Weeks that the addict will probably use to re-acquaint himself with whatever world his/her drug of choice will take them.

The other option is what is opened up by someone committing a crime. Drug courts are blossoming everywhere and, hopefully the threat of long term incarceration will stem the tide of the issue. The only problem with this is the fact that in metaphorical terms, addiction is a Tsunami. Why does it have to be a legal matter before someone steps in? Why not try to offer the treatment before your house, car, family, and dog are swept away? Because it is a disease that society views as a “lifestyle choice.”

I complain today because I am hurt over the loss of a friend. Perhaps not rationally, but in earnest, I want something to be done. I know this piece will be received with much criticism, and I might lose some of my followers, but I am posting it anyway. I don’t want special treatment for addicts. They already receive that in the prison system. I want the societal viewpoint to change and for people to realize that it is a medical problem that should require long term managed care instead of a quick trip to a rehab and back to the races.


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