It seems that every day the news about substance misuse and addiction is getting louder and shared ever more widely. This is particularly true of opiate and heroin use. Greater awareness is certainly the outcome of multi-faceted awareness campaigns that are working in aggregate. Of course, the most common reason for the rise in awareness is that this epidemic has accelerated to unforeseen and unimaginable levels.

Every state in the nation is experiencing increased heroin use, penetrating every demographic, with a corresponding growth in the number of overdoses and deaths. Children, barely adolescents, are in the center of it. This reality is biting at communities, including parents, brothers, sisters, and friends of those who find themselves in the grasp of heroin addiction. No one sets out to become addicted to any drug. And yet, despite the heightened awareness, heroin deaths have quadrupled in the US over the decade between 2002 and 2013 according to the US Centers for Disease Control. These numbers are staggering.

Awareness is critical to addressing this epidemic, and there can never be too much awareness. Yet awareness in and of itself has limited benefits. Over the next several blog entries, I am going to focus on how awareness programs can be made more effective. I will focus on how we need to amend what we are and aren’t saying and what we are and aren’t doing in the areas of awareness, treatment, and recovery. I will also spend some time on the backdrop of recognizing that just as there is no single cause for addiction, there is no single approach to recovery. In doing so, I will talk about some very dangerous rhetoric that has been making the rounds which denies the science of addiction as well as the nature of addiction as a chronic brain disease.

So many people are fond of saying “We lost the war on drugs” to the point that it has almost become a cliché. Indeed that particular war was lost–mostly because it was misconceived and poorly fought, at both the strategic and tactical levels. But fighting a war for a right and just cause isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We do need to fight a smart war by changing and improving strategies and then executing with a foundation of strong standards, sustained investment, and resolve to win.

More to come,

Dom Coppola

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