by Deborah Snyder
There is definite movement in our country today to more clearly understand the dynamics of addiction. This enhanced interest is clearly due to the overwhelming number of deaths resulting from the opioid crisis sweeping through all different populations, cities and states in our country. No family or community is immune to the horrific rise of drugs that can kill. Even though opiate deaths are in the news daily, there is still another killer in our families and communities. This killer is alcohol. Alcohol related deaths continue to be as high as they have been for many years.
As a country, we have made strides in understanding addiction to be a disease. Treatment, not criminalization, has become a strong rallying cry. However, our treatment resources continue to be woefully inadequate for the scope of the problem. Too many people still consider those that are addicted to drugs or alcohol or both to be morally deficient. They do not understand how powerful the biological craving to continue using is in the body. 24/7 the mind and body cry out for the substance even in the face of overwhelming arguments of why they shouldn’t use.
Even in the medical community there continues to be a lack of compassion and understanding regarding the disease of addiction. Many people addicted to drugs and alcohol lead lives alienated from those they love due to the tragedy of addiction. The following example illustrates this lack of understanding and compassion from a doctor treating an alcoholic patient in an emergency room setting. His lack of compassion was not only hard to understand from a man who pledged to uphold an oath to help others, it put this alcoholic patient in a position of possible high-risk hazards to his health.
A forty-four-year-old white male was transported by his father and brother to a hospital emergency room to be screened medically prior to being transported to a county detox unit. He was very intoxicated and needed assistance to walk. His speech was slurred, and his demeanor was one of irritation. After a significant waiting period, which was stressful for all three men, an emergency room doctor entered the ER cubicle. His approach to the intoxicated patient was brusque, he was clearly annoyed that this patient was taking up his time. Without preamble or words of introduction, he began to examine the patient. He proceeded to poke at this face and nose to wake him up. The intoxicated patient, eyes closed and not aware of his surroundings, pushed the doctor’s hand away and told him to “expletive” off. The doctor angrily responded by saying, “if you can’t respect me then you can get out of my emergency room.” He summoned security and the patient, and his father and brother were ushered out of the hospital.
The unfinished medical screening resulted in a failed admission to the county detox unit. Due to the level of the patient’s consumption of alcohol, the personnel at the county detox unit did not feel that it was medically safe to transport him to their facility. This outcome left the father and brother, who had left their homes in communities 85 miles away, with nowhere to go with their intoxicated and potentially medically compromised family member. The alcoholic patient had been terminated from his halfway house earlier in the day because of his drinking. The alcoholic was described as a very gentle and reasonable person until he became intoxicated. At that point he could become verbally abusive. It was hoped that a doctor in an ER setting, schooled in the disease concept of alcoholism would have adopted a far less confrontational approach in his response to any intoxicated patient. His decision to expel him to the street might have resulted in medically hazardous outcome.
This actual example of failed awareness of the disease concept of addition and compassion toward the addict, is particularly distressing from a physician. Too many fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, sisters and brothers die each year due to the disease of addiction. There are many wonderful efforts being made to stop this terrible loss. Research, education and treatment resources need to continue to be increased to bring about a significant reduction in needless deaths. The stigmatization of the addict does nothing to prevent this continuing tragedy of human loss.
The issues surrounding addiction touch so many lives. If this horrible disease has touched your life, write and let me know about your experiences. Perhaps, if we share our experiences, both negative and positive, it will help us inform others about this disease.
Our experiences might make the painful struggles that addicts and their loved ones go through everyday more real and more personal. My hope is that this will take away some of the stigma attached to the disease of addiction.