Is Our Addiction Policy Needlessly Killing People?

By Mel Raymond, Health writer

Within the disability community, we are no strangers to the idea that our health services and government do not always have entirely the right idea when it comes to those in need. For reasons of private profit, misplaced ethics, or simple ignorance, those with disabilities or chronic diseases frequently experience less or the wrong kind of treatment.

Addiction Policy

This puts a lot of people in some very tough situations, about which we get rightfully angry. However, we often do not realize just how far this shoddy treatment of the needy runs. The problem becomes particularly troublesome when the disease or disability in question has stigma attached to it. Those with mental disabilities or diseases often receive moral as well as practical structures which prevent them from accessing the kinds of treatment that they deserve. A good case in point is the way in which the USA treats patients with substance abuse disorders. 

How Does Substance Abuse Treatment in America Compare to Other Countries?

Substance abuse is a major problem in the USA—and it's getting worse. Matters are not improved by the fact that our preventative education programs do not seem to have any effect, and our addict treatment facilities experience a high rate of patient relapse.

This is not, however, the case worldwide. Switzerland, for example, has a relatively low rate of addiction, and those who do succumb are frequently treated successfully in rehab, and can return to normal life with little to no relapsing. Why should this be? The answer lies in the differing attitudes both nations have towards both addiction prevention and treatment.

Are We Ignoring the Evidence?

In the USA, preventative educational measures regarding drugs tend to focus upon the punitive measures which will be inflicted upon drug users. In Switzerland, drugs education focuses instead upon the health implications of taking drugs, which seems to work as a far greater deterrent than the idea of being arrested.

When it comes to treatment, the USA tends to follow an 'abstinence only' approach, and castigates addicts for moral failings. The focus is on change of character rather than treating the chemical elements of the addiction, and treatment is informed as much by moralistic ideas of good citizen conduct as it is by medical science.

By contrast, Switzerland accepts that allowing addicts access to controlled medical substitutes for their addictions does, under proper supervision, get people 'clean' with far less relapse than the abstinence-only route. Furthermore, focusing on treating the causes of the addictions rather than the characters of the addicts generally brings about a willingness and an ability to get and stay sober far more effectively than the American way. Ignoring the evidence, and letting agendas get in the way of treatment is something which is holding back American medical care. For more on this issue, read this article.

About the author:

Mel Raymond is a writer and specializes in researching and working on pieces that have a mental health focus.

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