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Another View -- Eric Spofford: What Trump gets right and wrong about opioid crisis

April 11. 2018 11:12PM

President Trump has it partially right on the opioid crisis, specifically with his plans to hold drug companies responsible and increase spending on treatment.

But like much of America, the President has it wrong on the root causes of addiction and just how we should attack it.

The death penalty won’t deter drug dealers. And scary TV ads won’t deter addicts. Addiction doesn’t listen to reason and drug dealers don’t decide whether to make money or not based on the potential penalty they could face if caught.

We need to start thinking about addiction differently.

We’re spending more money and time on the problem than ever before, yet it’s getting worse, not better. In New Hampshire, we have the third highest overdose rate in the country.

It’s not because drug dealers from Lawrence, Mass., are flooding our cities and towns with drugs. It’s not because the police aren’t looking for drug dealers.

And it’s not because we haven’t seen enough TV commercials to appropriately scare us straight.

It’s because addiction is a societal disease that stems from a wide variety of situations and conditions, including, but not limited to: stress, depression, anxiety, unhealthy social bonds, isolation, loneliness and hopelessness. Addiction is caused by disconnection. It’s the result of dissociative behavior.

Morphine is given out to surgery patients all the time in the hospital. But we don’t see millions of surgery patients turning to the streets for heroin after their surgery.

Why is that? It’s because most return home to stable, safe environments where they have family, people they love and love them, responsibilities, purpose and productive lives.

Addicts almost always are lacking these very basic human needs and desires. It’s called the dislocation theory and it’s at the root of the opioid crisis, alcoholism and every other harmful addiction known to mankind.

It all stems from the incredible work of Vancouver psychologist Dr. Bruce K. Alexander in the 1970s and ’80s.

Alexander created the famous “rat park” in an attempt to prove that addiction is a societal problem, more than an individual flaw.

First, a lone rat was put in a cage with two bottles of water, one that was laced with drugs and a second that was not.

The lone caged rats went to the drugged water more frequently, became addicted and often overdosed.

Then they created a “rat park,” which included toys, tunnels, and groups of rats that socialized. In the rat park, the rodents turned to the drugged water at a far lower rate than the isolated rats.

I’ve been sober for 12 years and have worked in recovery ever since. I’ve helped a lot of people find their path to recovery and I’ve attended a lot of funerals for those who weren’t able to break through and find their hope.

I think about the rat park model often and firmly believe that promoting societal connection, removing stigmas and helping people reduce stress are the keys to successful recovery.

TV ads designed to scare people and calling for harsher penalties for drug dealers, including executions, only further demonizes addicts and increases isolation, depression and hopelessness.

We’ve seen these scare tactics before with the War on Drugs and watched as it failed miserably.

We can’t afford to waste any more time or resources on ineffective initiatives. Lives are at stake.

We need to spend our energy creating a healthier society that supports people struggling, rather than demonizing them. And we need to stop pointing the finger at the bad people and banishing them into exile.

Otherwise, they’ll react just like a rat in a cage.

Eric Spofford is the founder of Granite Recovery Centers.

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