Friday, October 2, 2015

OP-ED: The Humanity of Addiction

By Tyler Owen
The site of the crash on Highland Pike in Fort Wright that killed four. Photo credit: The River City News. 

My name is Tyler.  I am an alcoholic.  To declare that to a large audience, to strangers, to non-alcoholics, to people that know me but may not have known this fact, it is intimidating.

For a long time now I have been open and honest about being a recovering alcoholic.  I do not feel it is something that needs be hidden. Yes, I have done things that I am not proud of and possess a long mental list of actions I regret.

In the past two years I have strived to make those things right, rendering amends for all the wrong I have done.  I continue that mission and I also have set upon a quest to ease the pain of all the addicts I can.

As an alcoholic, I am an addict.  I have been in recovery for two years now, having taken my last drink on March 23, 2013.


It has been a journey of mental, emotional, and spiritual rehabilitation and I thank God, my family, my friends, my community, Crossroads Church, the organization Shatterproof, Alcoholics Anonymous, and countless others in assisting me in this journey.  It truly takes a village to bring an addict back.  And although I am an alcoholic, I consider myself a brother to every addict.

We find ourselves facing an epidemic of heroin addiction in our nation, in the state of Kentucky, and in the region of Northern Kentucky.   This has caused a vast array of damage to the people, property, and way of life of this region I call home.  Hepatitis C has risen to levels that threaten not just the intravenous drug using population but the public at large.  Families are broken, lives are shattered by jail and destitution, and our healthcare facilities are dominated by heroin related cases.  It is no longer just a problem; it is the most plaguing issue in our communities.

On September 1, 2015, on Highland Pike in Fort Wright, Kentucky,  a forty-eight year old man caused a motor vehicle crash that claimed his life along with three others, those three all being over the age of seventy.  Opioids were found to be in his system.  A tragedy of immense proportions, totally preventable and incredibly brutal, had occurred.  A heroin addict had caused not only his death, but the death of three innocent people.  I have heard this invoke anger against addicts, to call for their jailing and to keep them separated from the public.  It is a sentiment I am not new to.

What happened on Highland Pike was a tragedy.  There is no two ways about it.  And an individual has been declared responsible for it.  Individuals are responsible for tragedies every day.  I feel deep remorse and sorrow for the families and communities of those involved.  This could have been prevented.

On December 23, 2012 I was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol in Alexandria, Kentucky with a blood alcohol content nearing twice the legal limit.  I could have caused a tragedy.  I could have cost myself and innocent people their lives.  By the grace of God, I did not.  I am responsible for my actions and I am responsible for that DUI.  I make no claim that I am not liable for the numerous mistakes of my past that occurred while I was actively drinking.  But I also know I am not the sum of my mistakes.

Addicts disappoint.  It is what we do.  We have let down so many people, but most of all, we have let down ourselves.  But there is hope.  There are ways to fight it. You can come back from the brink of destruction.

Addiction is a disease.  And yes, it most certainly starts with a choice but so can a lot of diseases (heart disease through lifestyle, lung cancer through smoking, etc…).  We do not turn our back on the diseased.  We do not treat them less than human.  We do not lock them all up and throw away the key.  We treat them.  We educate them.  We support them.

Addiction may start with a choice, but it is a choice to use once.  Then it becomes a habit, possibly rising to a point where it dominates your life.  And guess what?  Once you get into recovery it still is an enormous part of your life.  You need to manage it.  You need to be open to treatment and mindful of your surroundings.  There has not been a day since March 23, 2013 that I have not thought about alcohol.  But I do not need to drink anymore.  I am not the sum of my mistakes.

I feel your anger, I do.  Tragedies like the wreck on Highland Pike hurt our hearts.  Crime is rising, people are being robbed for money to support habits, and children are being neglected and spurned.  But we cannot give up on addicts.

We need to continue exploring new ways of treatment, providing the forms of treatment we have, supporting clean needle exchange, educating everyone from grade school students to adults.

Some people say by getting people in jails we give them access to treatment.  Unfortunately that does not solve the solution.  Addicts need to really want to get better.  There is no magic cure.  Forcing treatment upon us is not effective.  And yes, neither is enabling.

I am not saying that addiction gives someone immunity from the law. It absolutely does not.  And I am not saying we should not try to treat the addicts we have in jails and prisons.  We absolutely should.  But we should not take the approach that jail is the cure for addiction.  That line of thinking comes with high price tag and a lot of broken hearts.

So let us work together as a community to help our neighbors struggling.  Remember we are all here together, striving for the best life for ourselves and our families.  Hate the drug, do not hate the addict.   They are more than the sum of their mistakes.  They are no less than anyone else.  We must not enable them, but we must also never turn our back on them as well.

I urge you to educate yourself on treatment options and the programs and laws that are being implemented and have been implemented to curb this epidemic.  Resources can be found at nkyhatesheroin.com as well as nkypar.org and nkyhealth.org.

I am also more than willing to share my experiences and my passion with anyone wanting to know more.  I can be reached via text or call at 859-653-5909.

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The views and opinions expressed here in this option editorial do not reflect the views or opinions of Fort Thomas Matters, its owners, writers, or editors. These are solely the ideas and independent research of its writer.

5 comments:

  1. Inspiring read. You should be proud of your recovery and proud of the good person you are. Thank you for sharing with us.

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  2. Tyler, thank you for sharing your story and facts about addiction. You are very brave to speak out and I hope that it helps in the fight to end the stigma and shame of addiction. Hugs and prayers for you continued journey on the path of sobriety.

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  3. This is a very important article; thank you, Mark, for getting it published! Biggest take away...hate the drug, not the addict!

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  4. We have a lot in common. Thank you for sharing and congratulations!

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