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Land of the Free and Home of the Addicted?

I am proud to be one of the proportionately small number of people in the world-wide population that was born and lives in the United States.  We have a quality of life in this country that is envied by most of the rest of the Earth’s populace.  It is the land of opportunity.  Of freedom.  Of safety.  Of choice.  The land of the free.  And recently, the home of the addicted.

Over the past ten years we have seen an addiction epidemic grow to affect an astounding proportion of our citizens.  Everywhere we read about the ‘opiate/opioid crisis’.  The overdose deaths.  The crime associated with those who need to feed the craving.  What we don’t read about are all the other illicit drugs that are being used as well.  And, of course, nobody talks about the king – alcohol.  Whatever the substance of choice might be, the fact is that the United States leads every other world nation in addiction statistics.  Along with the immediate gratification culture that has developed in our society (faster, more, now!), in conjunction with readily available resources and disposable income, we have seen a corresponding rise in the use of mind altering substances to make us feel even better.  Or stop us from feeling worse (pain).  And along with that comes the disease of addiction.  And we are talking mind altering substances only.  I am not even mentioning the problems we have with food, money, work, sex, computers, etc.  The ‘other’ more acceptable addictions.

In a 2016 study conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO) it was reported that the United States leads the other world nations in the categories of Cannabis Use, Cocaine Use, Opiate/Opioid Use (they used the word ‘rampant’ to describe our consumption), Amphetamine Use, Yearly Overdoses Per Capita, Number of People In Substance Abuse Treatment, and the National Availability of Substance Abuse Treatment Facilities (most of which are ‘for profit’ so people and companies are making money off of the problem, which is good, I guess?).  The one category in which the United States did not lead was Drug Related Arrests Per Capita.  We were second to Spain.  Per Capita.  By total volume of arrests, we far and away lead most nations, combined, totals for arrests.

What is the solution?  The War on Drugs?  The Opiate Epidemic governmental policy?  The Substance Abuse Task Forces?  Those have yet to show a reduction of any type in the growth of the addiction problem in the United States.  I would postulate that it starts with us.  The citizens.  Helping each other.  Holding each other accountable.  Getting our children educated around the potential for exposure to substances and the long-term effects of substance addiction.  Monitoring where they are, who they are with and what they are doing.  Ensuring that there is access for everyone who needs help to get it.  And not only through government tax dollars.  Through personal, grass roots support of non-profit facilities and organizations who are trying to help those to overcome the disease of addiction.  Supporting ballots and initiatives that work to reduce the amount of prescription drugs that are hemorrhaging into our society.  By speaking openly and acceptingly to those to appear to be suffering with the hope that if the stigma surrounding addiction is reduced, that they might be willing to accept the help they need.  No, there is no easy answer.  But we need to be aware of what is happening in our country.  We used to lead the world in science, technology, innovation, literature, education.  Now we lead the world in consumption.  Of everything.  Including drugs and alcohol.  And that will not bode well for the future of this country.  The greatest country in the world.  Right now.  Please reach out to someone who needs help or provide the vital support necessary to an organization that helps those suffering from addiction.  We all want to keep America great.  Let’s do that – here, at home.


Paul L. Scudo is the Executive Director of Step Denver and is in recovery from the disease of addiction.