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  • Writer's pictureKen McQueary

Addressing Substance Abuse

Written by Ken McQueary

Photo from Breaking Through

In America, over 20 million people ages 12 and up are afflicted with substance abuse. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, a part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, from April 2020 to April 2021, nearly 92,000 Americans in the U.S. fatally overdosed on drugs — the highest reported death toll during a 12-month period (Minkove).

Over time, the frequency of use of fentanyl has increased dramatically, and enough fentanyl has been seized to kill every American in the country. Drugs in general, both legal and illegal, take too many lives each day as more people continue to use them. They tear families apart, cause distrust between individuals, and destroy the lives of those involved as well as those affected by them.

No one grows up and says, "I will become addicted to drugs and become a drug addict". Some may resort to the use of drugs as a means of dealing with unwanted feelings or alleviating themselves or distracting from their inner feelings. One significant cause of addiction is the condition of a person's mental health. Those who have issues like depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder, tend to resort to substance abuse as a means of self-treatment. Another common cause of addiction is peer pressure or the desire to appear popular.

All the time, recreational and illegal drugs are contributing to this significant issue, but prescription drugs from doctors are also being abused in significant amounts. Of the patients prescribed opioids to alleviate pain, for example, it is estimated that over a quarter will abuse the medication. Every day in the U.S., 78 people are killed from an opioid overdose, and 46 of those deaths are caused by the person taking an opioid pain reliever that was prescribed. However, not everyone who takes drugs becomes dependent. Some will simply attempt them, while others succumb to compulsivity and become severely dependent. The causes of addiction are not fully understood, but along with environmental factors, genetics is likely to have an effect as well. Substance abuse is common among the homeless and is primarily responsible for the size of the homeless population. Services are unavailable to them that allow them to be hygienic, and even then, it is difficult to remain hygienic in a location that facilitates drug use. "Approximately 45% of homeless people have a mental health condition, some will self-medicate with illegal substances without knowing the proper dosages. This results in them not having access to proper care" (rehabspot). Many individuals that have both mental and substance abuse issues have trouble finding treatment because facilities that accept individuals with mental health issues will not accept individuals that have substance abuse issues, as well. I interviewed an anonymous informant about how the use of a family member's medication had an effect on them. What is your interpretation of the reason for his mistreatment of them? He was injured as a child. He followed a lifestyle of staying up all night and sleeping during the day on weekends, as a result, he began to abuse sleeping pills and painkillers. Ultimately, they administered him the drug xanax. I have no idea why anyone would actually begin. You become dependent because your body seeks that high constantly. It increased in a yearly manner."

Did that have an effect on your relationship? Yes, because that's what his primary concern was. That was all he valued." Did he ever ask for cash or take it? "He consistently took one from me and never gave it back." Anything else you want to discuss? He lost all of his acquaintances and relatives. He was indifferent to having romantic relationships because of his addiction. He was negligent with his medications. He traded them. It ultimately led to his death. He refused to visit any medical professionals because he believed they would take his medications away.

He was delusional and despite having diabetes that was severely ill, his feet would have decayed, he couldn't walk, he couldn't take care of himself, he wouldn't have anyone to see. When he died, the nurse likely recorded over 1000 pills he was keeping—xanax and oxycodone. Ultimately, he was recounting the numbers over and over again in order to make sure no of the nurses were taking from him."

Substance abuse is responsible for too many deaths every day. Despite the multitude of reasons why someone would take drugs or alcohol, it's a huge problem in the U.S. For those who struggle, getting help as described above in this article can be extremely difficult, and it can seem like it's almost impossible to become clean. It is definitely necessary to have more access to assistance and to have the ability to access it more easily for those who are struggling to leave the position they are in.

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