BY RON duBOIS
A government pamphlet available on request from the National Institute for Drug Abuse [NIDA] says, “Throughout much of the last century, scientists studying drug abuse labored in the shadows of myths and misconceptions about the nature of addiction. When science began to study addictive behavior in the 1930’s, people addicted to drugs were thought to be morally flawed and lacking in willpower. Those views shaped society’s responses to drug abuse [the war on drugs/drug prohibition!] treating it as a moral failing rather than a health problem, which led to an emphasis on punitive rather than preventative and therapeutic actions. Today, thanks to science, our views and our responses to drug abuse have changed dramatically. Groundbreaking discoveries about the brain have revolutionized our understanding of drug addiction, enabling us to respond effectively to the problem.”
It states unequivocally, “As a result of scientific research, we know that addiction is a disease that affects both brain and behavior.”
In accord with NIDA’s statement that addiction is a disease the Payne County Democratic Party Convention on April 2 among its Health Care resolutions adopted the following, “We will work to to support treating drug misuse as a medical rather than a criminal issue. We support methadone maintenance in county jails and prisons as stated in SB 854.
When will the misplaced bigotry, stigma, hypocrisy, corruption, laws that harass, imprison, fine, impose probation and community service, money making drug courts, the imposition of unrealistic financial burdens on both addict and families as punishment for a disease as real as cancer change in favor of a rational public health approach? We can no longer be blind to the way the nation’s failed drug war treats citizens with the disease of addiction.
What if the drugs used to treat diseases such as cancer, diabetes, etc., for emotional reasons were made illegal? The public no doubt would understand that persons with cancer would want to obtain medication to prolong or save their lives. Most Americans would feel sympathy for those who broke the law in order to obtain an illegal substance. The public could see that these laws would foster crime.
Yet the public has been unwilling to see that the same is true of drug prohibition. While it accepts many medical conditions as diseases it lags in understanding that addiction is also a disease. Recently the message of a spate of excellent television documentaries, books, and pamphlets express the same message, namely that addiction is an organic brain disease that is a health not a criminal issue.
According to the Director of the Indiana Consortium for Mental Health Services Research, many people see mental disorders as something that never go away. When you attach a feeling of permanence to this, then it justifies, in some ways, a person’s sense of ‘”otherness” or ‘less- than-humanness. The term “culture of otherness” and the word “stigma” mean the same thing. Although especially virulent in Oklahoma the “culture of otherness” affects the history of nations. It is deadly because its perpetrators are unaware they are part of it.
Why should methadone maintenance in jails and prisons be supported nation wide?
Because it is a death sentence not to. Stigma and the “culture of otherness” enter with the message “It doesn’t matter…the world is better off without them.” Widespread stigma contributes to Oklahoma’s No. 1 ranking in jail/prison suicide in the nation. Equally disturbing is the same ranking applies to the general population.
My son’s wrongful death was caused by Payne County Jail medical policy requiring “cold turkey” methadone withdrawal. Such a “policy,” based on inadequate medical understanding that the pains of withdrawal are so great that suicide becomes preferable to bearing the pain, is criminal in itself. SB 854, sponsored by Sen. James Halligan, R-Stillwater, and Rep. Lee Denney, R-Cushing, would correct this. Already passed by the Senate, it is now being considered by the House.
If passed, my son’s death will stand for a victory for Justice. If not, the science of brain biology, substance use disorder, enlightened healthcare and jail design for jail and prison inmates, will be swept under the rug, awaiting future enlightened legislation.
– Ron duBois lives in Stillwater, OK and is an occasional contributor to The Oklahoma Observer.
Editor’s Note: Ron duBois’ son, Peter, 49, died in July 2010 after he fell or jumped over a four-foot guard rail and landed 12 feet below on the floor of the Payne County Jail. Ron duBois says the flawed open railing system allows suicidal inmates to harm themselves, when not given proper medical evaluation and medication. The photo of the interior pod at the Payne County Jail is courtesy of Michelle Charles/The Stillwater Journal. The NIDA pamphlet referred to above is entitled Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction.