The drug abuse devil does exist

The finest trick of the devil is to persuade you that he does not exist,” wrote French poet Charles Baudelaire in the mid-19th century. Since then, the line has been paraphrased many times, including in the 1995 film, “The Usual Suspects.”

Clearly, the purveyors of death we know as illicit drug pushers see the warning as words to live by. People who won’t even admit the extent of the substance abuse crisis are the pushers’ best friends.

A few days ago, one of the online public opinion polls we run every day asked this: “Do you personally known someone affected by the opioid drug epidemic?”

Forty-nine percent of respondents said no.

Now, I realize our polls are, as we advise in writing every day, unscientific. Still, when nearly half of the 198 people responding insist they don’t know anyone affected by the drug epidemic, we have a problem.

For the record, I know several people who have been affected by drug abuse. I’ve known a few addicts and a few recovering addicts. Beyond any reasonable doubt, some of the men, women — and children — I come in contact with are affected, unbeknownst to me.

It’s all around us.

How bad is it? As I wrote a year or two ago, drug overdoses kill more Americans every year than died in the entire Vietnam War. The government says 58,200 Americans perished in that conflict.

In 2017 alone, overdoses killed 70,237 men, women and even children. West Virginia and Ohio, respectively, have the highest overdose death rates in the nation.

Here’s another wakeup call about which I’ve written: By far the most common category of case coming before the West Virginia Supreme Court is appeals from parents whose children have been taken from them because mom and dad were junkies. Dozens of attempts to regain custody come before the justices during each term of court.

You may have noticed that a key section of the public school improvement law enacted by Mountain State legislators this year involved providing more counselors and psychologists for schools. Why are they needed? Too many children have become innocent victims of adults’ substance addiction. Ask a teacher whether he or she knows someone affected by the drug abuse crisis. There’s a good chance the answer will be “yes.”

It’s been noted that one of the challenges of getting someone with a substance abuse problem, including alcoholism, into treatment is convincing the person that he or she is in danger. That’s true of us a society, too. If we don’t recognize the scope of the crisis, we’re unlikely to battle it effectively.

Likewise, we need to understand people from every layer of society are affected. We’re not talking just about the folks you see passed out in doorways, folks. They’re just not as good at hiding their addictions as some of the people with whom we come in contact.

And, by the way, those who tell us we ought to be careful of our language, for fear of shaming people who need substance abuse treatment, are dead wrong. They’re addicts — and they need to understand that.

Baudelaire was absolutely right in his warning about evil. Apparently, the devil is doing an excellent job of convincing some of us he doesn’t exist.

But ask an addict. He does.

Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.


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