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Opinion >  Editorial

Follow the science on addiction, treatment

Sunday’s in-depth look into one family’s struggle to help their teenage daughter with addiction should open eyes and start conversations, especially among those who see drug and alcohol abuse as a moral failing.

It’s much more complicated than that, as Kevin and Rochelle Schultz have discovered. The Spokane Valley parents are educated. attentive and caring. They’re both school teachers and not without resources. But years of attempting to help their daughter Vanessa have brought them to the point of despair.

Upon considering the multitude of interventions for Vanessa, her father says, “I’m a little perplexed (at) how ineffectual the services really are.”

Without drastic changes in Vanessa’s circumstances, her mother says, “She’s either going to end up in jail or in the morgue. One or the other. I mean, we’re not naive.”

The Schultzes showed great courage in allowing a reporter to tell their story. There’s so much we all can learn from it.

What’s clear is that society needs to adapt to the latest scientific research and understand the best evidence-based interventions. This isn’t a simple matter of “Scared Straight,” in which teens are intentionally placed into harrowing circumstances to whip them into shape. Such approaches lull society into thinking that quick-fixes are possible. Research shows it doesn’t work.

A vulnerability to addiction can be inherited, according to a 2009 National Institutes of Health study. Researchers are finding that addiction is like a chronic condition the medical community doesn’t fully understand. Most medical schools don’t even expose their students to the subject. Health care insurance may not reflect the reality of addiction.

For this and other reasons only a small percentage of people in need of treatment get it. The U.S. surgeon’s general’s 2016 report “Facing Addiction in America” states: “Although 20.8 million people (7.8 percent of the population) met the diagnostic criteria for a substance use disorder in 2015, only 2.2 million individuals (10.4 percent) received any type of treatment.”

The report calls for a cultural shift with these goals in mind:

“People who need help feel comfortable seeking it; there is ‘no wrong door’ for accessing health services; communities are willing to invest in prevention services, knowing that such investment pays off over the long term, with wide-ranging benefits for everyone; health care professionals treat substance use disorders with the same level of compassion and care as they would any other chronic disease, such as diabetes or heart disease; people are celebrated for their efforts to get well and for their steps in recovery; and everyone knows that their care and support can make a meaningful difference in someone’s recover.”

As one expert noted in the article, we don’t wait for diabetes to take a person’s eyesight, fingers or toes before beginning treatment. But too often, support for addicts doesn’t start until they land in jail or a hospital bed.

That’s a sure sign of a failed system.


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