Pubdate: Wed, 11 Nov 2015
Source: Alaska Dispatch News (AK)
Copyright: 2015 Alaska Dispatch Publishing
Note: Anchorage Daily News until July '14
Author: Mike Dingman
Note: Mike Dingman is a fifth-generation Alaskan born and raised in 
Anchorage. He is a former UAA student body president and has worked, 
studied and volunteered in Alaska politics since the late '90s.


Our children and neighbors are dying from a preventable disease. As a 
community, it is incumbent upon us to stand beside our brothers and 
sisters in pain and provide them with the support they need to fight 
this deadly disease rather than throwing them in a jail cell and 
leaving them to rot while we cruelly judge them from afar.

Alaska Dispatch News has just started an occasional series titled 
"Overdosed: Heroin in Alaska." Michelle Theriault Boots' first piece 
in the occasional series, titled "Juneau's Heroin Heartbreak," ran in 
print Sunday, Saturday online. Heroin is a growing problem in Alaska, 
and right now it is one of, if not the, most popular drug in the 
state. The problem grew, sources in the report said, when addicts of 
the prescription drug Oxycontin went looking for a cheaper fix, but 
also found a stronger and deadlier one.

Reading these firsthand accounts of addiction can help one to 
understand the strong grip that heroin can have on those in its 
clutches. Many like to pretend that this problem is a "junkie" 
problem. They imagine people sitting in the alley among other junkies 
amid needles and rats. That's just not the case. This is a societal 
problem. It doesn't only happen to them -- it can happen to anybody.

It's very easy to look in from the outside and take a judgmental 
attitude. "They have it coming," someone might say, or, "They put 
themselves in this position, now they have to suffer the 
consequences." However, let's consider a couple of points. Many 
addicts grew up in households of parents who were addicts. Many can 
tell you stories of things like walking in diapers across the living 
room, running their fingers across a line of cocaine and putting it 
in their mouths. Others can describe what seemed like hours of 
reckless partying by their parents. They never knew any other kind of 
life. What else were they supposed to do when they grew older -- that 
is all they knew.

While it is still difficult to help people understand the issue, it 
really warms my heart when a seemingly hard-nosed Republican like 
Gov. Chris Christie really gets it. Discussing his mother and cancer 
at a recent campaign town hall in New Hampshire, Christie said:

In 1964 and the Surgeon's General report had come out, and she was in 
her mid-30s, she knew that smoking was bad for you, and I'll tell you 
I watched her as a kid growing up. She tried everything she could to 
quit. She tried the gum, the patches, hypnosis, she tried everything. 
She couldn't quit.

Now, when she turned 71, a little after that, she was diagnosed with 
lung cancer. No one came to me and said, don't treat her cause she 
got what she deserved. We know the lung cancer was caused by the 
smoking, we know it was.

But nobody came to me and said, "Hey look, your mother was dumb, she 
started smoking when she was 16, but after we told her it was bad for 
her, she kept doing it, so we're not going to give her chemotherapy, 
we're not going to give her radiation, we're not going to give her 
any of that stuff, you know why? 'Cause she's getting what she 
deserves." No one said that, no one said that about someone that had 
cancer. Yet somehow, if its heroin or cocaine or alcohol, we say, 
well, they decided, they're getting what they deserved.

Gov. Christie said it perfectly there. He went on to tell a story 
about a friend of his, from law school, and attorney that had it all, 
big house, nice car, beautiful family, and lost it all to an 
addiction to prescription pills. He told the town hall crowd of the 
story when he got the call he had been dreading, his friend was found 
dead in a hotel room with an empty bottle of pills and vodka.

"There but for the grace of God go I, it can happen to anyone." 
Christie says as he recalls looking at his friend's three daughters 
sobbing at the loss of their father, as he stood there as the 
governor of New Jersey.

He finished by saying, "We need to start treating people in this 
country, not jailing them."

Those are the most important words anybody can speak when it comes to 
addiction. We need to start treating addiction in this country, 
rather than criminalizing it. Once we, as a society, realize that, we 
will be able to start to heal soul and heal as a society. There but 
for the grace of God go I, it could happen to any of us, we are the lucky ones.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom