The Double Standard Of Addiction: Why We Should Treat All Cases Equally
My heart aches for Lamar Odom and his family and friends.
Absolutely no one deserves this.
I know, because I’ve been there. I know every single feeling his family and friends are having right now and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.
Since the news of Lamar Odom’s overdose came out, the media and public has responded amazingly.
There’s been an incredible amount of support and well-wishes for his recovery, and that’s how it should be.
Let me make a point. That’s how it should be. I’m not here to dispute that, I’m here to tell you this: the reality for non-celebrities is quite different.
My brother has a history as a drug addict.
Like Lamar, he’s never been able to get the disease under control, and he’s ended up in hospitals more times than I can count from overdoses.
He should’ve died many times, but somehow he’s survived.
If you really want to know, my brother is there right now.
He’s in a hospital because he overdosed.
He’s suffered a severe brain injury, and is looking at a future similar to the one Lamar is looking at if he survives (and I hope he does).
The difference in Lamar Odom and my brother is how people are reacting.
Everyone who hasn’t lived under a rock for the past five years knows who Lamar Odom is.
So when they hear this story, hearts break and Twitter fills with compassion. Because that’s how it should be.
I don’t know Lamar’s life and I won’t pretend to.
What I do know is that addiction is a disease, one that often stems from mismanaged mental illness.
Addicts generally aren’t just low-life losers who got in with the wrong crowd. They are self-medicating serious and deep mental illnesses with drugs and alcohol.
But for an addict with a history of overdose, hospitals don’t care about that.
Rehab facilities don’t care. Insurance doesn’t care.
For those who don’t have the resources or capabilities to fight for themselves, there are limited options.
My brother has been released from hospitals when it was way too soon, without treatment, simply because he was an addict.
He’s been turned down for physical rehabilitation centers because he has a history of drug use.
To put it bluntly: His quality of life is less valued.
I can’t speak for Lamar Odom’s life, and this does not negate the tragic situation he’s in, but if I had to guess, he won’t face these care issues.
He has a recognizable name, and that influences the doctors who are caring for him and the treatment he’s receiving.
Those who don’t have a big name, he or she is just another junkie who will die from an overdose eventually anyway, so why waste the resources?
This isn’t cynicism. It’s fact. One that I’ve sadly seen many times.
There’s a double standard in this country.
We want so badly to have open conversations about mental illness, but when you look at the reality, it’s not pretty.
The reality is, often drug use goes along with mental illness, and when that happens, it’s called a co-occurring or dual disorder.
But we aren’t having a nationwide conversation about this.
Instead, we look at the situation as black and white, and drug addicts fall into the bad black hole.
So we lock them in prison and let them sleep on the streets, assuming they just made life choices (which they did, but not always just for fun).
If we really want to address mental health in this country, we have to understand all parts of it.
I hate drugs.
I hate what they do to people, I hate how they become addicting and I hate how they destroy lives.
But just because I hate it, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try to understand it.
So while we pray for Lamar, don’t forget about the John and Jane Doe’s of the world, who aren’t getting any attention.
Pray for them, too.
Next time you see a drug addict, think about it.
You don’t know the reason why he or she started using in the first place, or why he or she can’t seem to stop.
I’m sure there are plenty of users out there who do it just because it feels good, but there are just as many who do it because they feel like it’s the only escape they have.
Addicts are humans too. It would do us all well to remember that.