1987 you’d think. Jennifer Airlie, my mother, was 13

1987
was an eventful year for my family; my mother found out she was pregnant, my
grandparents were freaking out, but not for the reasons you’d think. Jennifer
Airlie, my mother, was 13 when she got pregnant; my father, Wilfred John
Bathan, was 17. Before I could even be brought into this world, my father hung
himself, and shortly after, my mother attempted to take us with him by
overdosing on prescription medication. That’s when my mother’s drug addiction
began.

Her
addictions went from bad to worse. She tried to find help, numerous times, but
rehab clinics and sober living homes are privately funded, and she couldn’t
afford the monthly costs. Our family gave up on her after trying to help her a
handful of times. But additions aren’t any easy habit to kick. Depressed,
alone, and hopeless, she would turn back to drugs and alcohol; it was her only
relief. Waiting at free medical clinics for help with her depression all day,
just to be told to come back another time because she couldn’t be seen. This
beat her down even more. When her usual cocktail of a bottle of vodka, Norcos,
Somas, and Xanax weren’t cutting it, she turned to heroin. That same year,
2014, after nearly 30 years of searching for government help, she was admitted
to a state funded methadone treatment. Every morning she had to find a way to
make it to the clinic, 20 miles away, by 8 A.M., or she would not get her
dosage for that day. She had no driver’s license due to her epilepsy, caused by
issues from past drug use, and she was too proud to ask for a ride.
Unfortunately, since seeing so many different doctors at these free clinics,
her medical records were not properly cross checked for contraindications. She
suffered an “accidental death due to medication.” It was Sunday, November 8th,
2014, 10:38 A.M., exactly a week and one day before her 42nd
birthday.

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The
War on Drugs has been and ongoing fight since 1971. Since its inception, the
government has spent $1 trillion, hard earned, American tax dollars. And what
have we got to show for it? The recent opioid epidemic killed over 20,000
Americans in 2016 (Overdose Death Rates). Our jails overflowing with people who
are incarcerated for a non-violent drug related crime. Drug abuse is not a lack
of moral fiber or self-control, it’s an addiction. An addiction, as defined by
the National Institute on Drug Abuse is:

“A
chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug
seeking and use, despite harmful consequences. It is considered a brain disease
because drugs change the brain; they change its structure and how it works.
These brain changes can be long lasting and can lead to many harmful, often
self-destructive, behaviors.”

Per a government
funded organization, addition is a disease; diseases, under normal
circumstances, are viewed as a public health issue. The treatment of drug use
and addition as a criminal act, rather than a public health issue, and not
providing proper rehabilitation, creates more problems than it solves.

                In America, we have villainized
drugs and any association to them. Those that use them, are condemned for their
“sins” and should be punished for their wrong doings. Regrettably, punishment
never works. In U.S. state prisons, in 2015, there were 1,298,159 people
serving time for non-violent drug convictions (Prisons and Drugs). The
penitentiary system does not have a rehabilitation program in place for those
inmates incarcerated for drug related crimes. They come out of the system
unchanged and branded as a criminal for life. Jail and shaming doesn’t help a
person overcome their drug use. Psychologically shaming often leads to more
drug use. The times when my mother would show actual improvements was when I
would sit with her and ask about her addiction and why she feels the need to
use. I would be understanding and sympathetic, rather than making her feel bad
and not wanting to seek help. We don’t have a reliable system in place to help
those that seek recovery and rehabilitation, our system makes the issues worse.

                These people have been treated as less
than human for not being able to afford the greatly needed help most desire.
Many of those that suffer from addiction are very similar to my mother; they
are emotionally and mentally disturbed, many times traumatized from a major
event, like the untimely death of a loved one or posttraumatic stress from the
war. They cannot move past these events and only wish to dull the pain they
feel every waking moment. They are mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters,
people that are deeply loved, but do not know how to cope with what they are
feeling and only know that deadening themselves inside will get them through
the day. Many wish to be “normal”, but society deems these people as abnormal.
Pain, suffering and unhappiness are as ordinary feelings as happiness, joy and
love, but treating a person as a criminal for having those feelings is not
acceptable. They need assistance from a professional to help them better
understand what they are feeling and discover new ways to deal with their pain
other than just becoming comfortably numb. There cannot be a cookie cutter
regimen, each case is individual, and that person needs to know there are
people that care about what they are going through, not just pushed through the
system and told they are a “bad person.”

                Most criminals do not qualify
for public health services to receive the help they need to address their
addiction; and those people with addictions that do qualify must wait in
extremely long lines that can last upwards of 8 plus hours just to see a
general physician, not an addiction specialist. The Substance Abuse and Mental
Health Services Administration reported in 2016 there were 26.8 million persons
aged 12 or older with substance dependence or abuse (Drug Use Estimates). That
number has increased since 2002. Of those 26.8 million people, only 1,305,647
were admitted to treatment in 2015 (Treatment & Recovery). These treatment
facilities were at or above capacity for substance abuse patients, and only
about 40% accepted state financed health insurance (Substance Use Treatment
Data, Research, and Policies). The government will provide enough beds for
people in prison but will only allow less than 10% of the people with substance
dependency treatment and even less will be helped by state funding. If money
were redirected to rehabilitation as opposed to the state and private prisons
more people could be assisted in recovery.

Many
countries in Europe have decriminalized the use and personal possession of
illicit drugs and have seen their numbers of overall drug use and overdose
drop. Portugal was one of those countries that recently decriminalized illicit
drug use and related acts. Since its enactment in July 2001, the European
Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction has been keeping a well
monitored record of data reported.

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