United we stand: Let’s get serious about addressing addiction

Chris Raines Photo courtesy of Chris Raines

BY CHRIS RAINES

Like many parts of Western North Carolina, Madison County was hit hard by the prescription opiate epidemic. It was going on long before I took my first dose at the age of 17. I had fractured my spine, and at that time, my doctor had no problem writing prescriptions every month. Before I knew it, I’d been on prescription opiates for nearly two years. But then my doctor left the local clinic, and my new doctor decided that I didn’t need the drugs, so he cut me off cold turkey. Little did I know that this was only the beginning of a long and ruthless “war on opiates” that continues to be waged in Madison County to this day.

That was almost eight years ago, and at this point, many of us are beginning to realize that we, as a society, have made quite a few mistakes in attempting to deal with our drug problems. But accepting responsibility for those mistakes also means acknowledging their consequences — including the addiction epidemic that now plagues us. We have the potential to solve it, but so far, all we’ve succeeded in doing is creating a more crowded jail and putting further stress on our local court system.

I was in my second year of active addiction when the war on opiates began to be fought in Marshall, where I lived at the time. There were numerous arrests each week as the Sheriff’s Office made a big deal about “cleaning up the streets.”

Meanwhile, the local clinic decided to join the war effort. It began by adopting a new policy that sharply restricted the prescribing of opiates, along with a plan to wean current chronic pain patients off all narcotic pain meds.

But while cutting back on opiate prescriptions did make drugs harder to come by, it also caused prices — not to mention addicts’ desperation levels — to increase drastically. I don’t believe these tactics were well-thought-out.

Waging a criminal war on drugs merely pushes residents suffering from the disease of addiction further into isolation. The message coming from local law enforcement is, “We arrest and prosecute addicts.” And the combination of soaring drug prices and no recovery infrastructure only strengthens addicts’ demand for the drug. Worse yet, the increasing scarcity of prescription drugs means addicts are now being introduced to more dangerous and unpredictable alternatives, such as heroin. Local families are losing everything, and drug trafficking is on the rise.

It’s not my intention here to point fingers or cast blame. At the same time, however, I refuse to sit idly by as this illness continues to destroy my community. I refuse to watch my friends and family members get shoved into prisons or laid in their final resting place before their 25th birthday. And I refuse to be silent a moment longer waiting for us to come together and do what’s necessary to address this violent and destructive issue.

I understand that addiction isn’t confined to our community and that there will be many challenges to overcome before we see significant progress. But we have to start somewhere, and the time is now.

First, we need to learn what addiction is and how it works, and then rid ourselves of the ignorant falsehoods, stereotypes and stigmas we’ve created concerning addicts. We can no longer afford to view addiction through the rigid lens of criminal law. How can we expect to shed light on an issue if all we do is push its sufferers further into the shadows? The disease of addiction feeds on isolation, and as long as we criminalize and condemn addicts, we will never make any true progress in addressing the problem. In fact, our judgments only add more fuel to the fire.

Instead, let us reach out to those who are dealing with addiction. They are, after all, our sons, our daughters, our brothers and our sisters, and we should be offering them our love, our support, our understanding.

Remembering that we ourselves are not perfect, we must stand in humility rather than self-righteous judgment. Are we willing to openly admit our own shortcomings in order to close the gaps that keep us divided? Are we willing to come together in unity to tackle the problems that are too big for any one of us to face alone?

History is full of examples of what can be achieved when a community comes together in love for a common cause. United, we can share responsibility for our residents and the burdens that plague them. If we refuse to do so, we’re forcing them to rely on the resources found in bigger cities, which are already beginning to buckle under the strain of overload. Let’s lead by example, striving to create local resources that address addiction here at home.

I am now 25 years old, and I recently celebrated one year of recovery. I’m currently working to establish a grassroots nonprofit organization designed to provide local recovery resources for Madison County residents. It will be a pilot program aimed at creating a model that other small communities can easily implement. Follow Agape Community Recovery Resources on Facebook and Twitter. If you’re interested in helping out or have any questions, please email us at agapecrr@gmail.com.

Chris Raines lives in Hot Springs.

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6 thoughts on “United we stand: Let’s get serious about addressing addiction

  1. Bob Magnus

    You left out your personal testimony as to how you know that addicts lie, steal, betray friendships, and do just about anything to get high, even after long periods of recovery, perhaps even a year. How do you suggest that people who want to help addicts avoid being enablers, suckers, and accomplices, perhaps just as irresponsible as those nasty police who arrest addicts? How can we be sure that money donated to your nonprofit doesn’t get channeled right into your personal stash?

    • Tracy Rose

      Xpress encourages discussion of the issues, not name-calling.

      • Lulz

        LOL, that’ your PC problem lulz. Labeling people for their behavior and actions sometimes results in shame and humiliation that causes them to gee like change. But this modern mentality where those that do harm are somehow victims and not responsible, thus immune to criticism is exactly why more of it is happening. From the illusion that single moms are a good thing to a nation increasingly doped up on legal prescription drugs lulz. Maybe you should like actual see the damage that many years of “liberalism” have caused and that these so called addicts are nothing more than overgrown children who seize on the sympathy of others to get by instead of a good swift kick to their rear ends like they deserve LOL

      • jack horner

        The idea “that addicts lie, steal, betray friendships” is 1. a total generalization that implies non-addicts don’t do those things and 2. although it is definitely true in some cases, it is the result being marginalized by our society through discriminatory police policy, harmful medical practices, and cultural stereotypes. – If I’m not mistaken, these are the issues the author is trying to address. So, to throw all those stereotypes back at him says more about your own narrow mindedness than anything else.

  2. WAVL

    This is such a great column, and then…the comments. The internet truly is the worst place in the world.

  3. Thank you for the comments guys. First off, I would like to point out that several of the negative comments that have been posted above come from people that I have personally wronged during my active addiction, and I understand that reconciliation can be difficult to a person after being treated so poorly. I am in no way saying that being an addict is EVER an excuse to lie, cheat, steal, or manipulate a situation. One of the primary diagnostic criteria for being an addict is selfishly seeking drugs despite the negative consequences that result – among these being damaging or destroying relationships or the trust of someone that is close to the addict. Many addicts look back on their life in active addiction and can recall doing some, if not all, of these things.

    I AM guilty of “lieing, stealing, betraying friendships, and doing just about anything to get high, even after long periods of recovery, perhaps even a year”, my recovery is never a permanent or guaranteed thing. In fact, each day I must be diligent to maintain and protect this recovery.

    The Mission of Agape Community Recovery Resources is aimed at addressing these very issues within our society. If you have been wronged by an addict, maybe you should seek the counsel of others that have also been similarly wronged by close friends and relatives suffering from addiction.

    I then encourage you to educate yourself. Addiction IS a disease, but I will also stress again that it IS NOT an excuse. Each of us must live with the things that we have done, and I am not exempt from that. If you feel that you have never made a mistake or a few mistakes in your past, feel free to enlighten me as to how you achieved this perfect life. Otherwise, I advise you to look within yourself and meditate on what Agape Love is and on the many fruits of this type of love, the biggest being forgiveness. Forgiveness breeds healing, and it is the mission of Agape Community Recovery Resources to promote this type of Love. Our community needs to learn to forgive, to confess, and to allow Unconditional Love to unite a people that are more divided today than ever before in human history. I founded this non-profit, however, it is governed by a board and all donations and funds are managed and kept by a third party appointed by the board and full transparency regarding the use of these funds will always be this organizations policy.

    Thank you again to those that support the mission of Agape Community Recovery Resources, and I hope that those who do not for reasons of a bitter heart can find some healing from the resentments that they have towards addicts that have wronged them in the past.

    Blessing and Thanks,

    Chris Raines
    Founder
    Agape Community Recovery Resources

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