I'm going to say a word, and I want you to think of the first thing that comes to mind. The word? Opioids. What did you think of?
I asked this same question to a variety of different people over the summer, ranging from food stall owners to recovering addicts, all of whom I came across on the streets of Portland.
From answers like "disease" to "needles" and "pain," there seems to be a consensus that opioids are a problem in our communities. It seems from conversations with the general public about the issue, we have this stereotype in our minds that we cannot let go of.
It's the idea that all substance users choose to have these addictions. This is a very naive mindset, but an understandable one. It is much easier to place the blame on the person and argue they should stop using than to try and root out the substance itself.
People naturally gravitate toward what they see as the “easier” answer.
But for us to conquer this epidemic and stop its reign of terror, we must first understand the people who are affected by it. And clearly, as a society, we have failed to do that thus far.
There are many misunderstandings when it comes to the topic of the opioid epidemic. One of the worst things to see with this rising problem is the misconception that drug users choose to be addicts. Yet from personal experience, I can vouch for this being false. Since I was born, someone close to me has been battling against addiction.
This person's addiction has taught me that it is not a choice. I’ve grown up seeing him wake up every day and go to a Narcotics Anonymous meeting, and I’ve grown up seeing him admit himself to a sober house. All of these are steps he takes on his path to recovery. If he wanted to stay addicted, he would stick with his old ways of use. But he doesn’t. He is taking steps daily to help himself.
Addiction is just like any other disease. You don’t choose to have heart disease or choose to have cancer. So why is it that just because addiction shows itself in a different form, it is treated and looked at differently?
My family member has fought these demons for years, and even after relapsing multiple times, he still has the faith to charge in and try again in order to break free of what plagues him. If that is not strong, then I don’t know what is. Even after relapsing back into use multiple times, he has been able to stay strong and keep trying to help himself. When he fails and falls back into it, he works again by going back to another rehab center and trying to get back to where he was. And after multiple tries, he is in the best place I’ve ever seen him. People don't seem to understand that addiction is a disease. Not a choice.
If we want to fight this epidemic, we need not target hate and mistrust to the victims of it; we must educate ourselves on the matter so that we may learn and understand that the opioids themselves are the enemies. Not the addicts.
Kayla Roth is a student at Traip Academy in Kittery.