My Turn: Addiction, mental illness are our common enemy

By PETER EVERS

For the  Concord Monitor

Sunday, June 14, 2015
(Published in print: Sunday, June 14, 2015)

The times that we live in suggest that political voices spend a great deal of time posturing and scoring points against each other on social issues, fiscal responsibility, hawks verses doves, etc. I don’t think this has always been the case.

There have been times when politicians have been very much in tune to the citizenry that they have served.

Our collective minds seek a more sensitive era, when the likes of Tip O’Neill and Ronald Regan established a relationship that averted the rather nasty and ignominious recent outcomes of brinkmanship, government shutdowns and furloughs of workers caught in the middle of ethereal disputes driven by a dogmatic adherence to a principle, the origins of which might be long forgotten.

One thinks of the political alliances forged from the great wars in Europe. Winston Churchill was able to motivate the people of Britain while under constant attack from Nazi blitzkrieg in London by staying with his people and being true to his message. This “We will fight them on the beaches” mentality was the thread that bound his people together when times were desperate.

It is amazing what can be done when people can identify a common enemy, and they can agree that the actual action needed is more important than the doctrines and credo of Party. I believe that we are at one of those seminal moments when political ideology is trumped by such a common enemy.

Their names are addiction and mental illness.

We read every day of opiate-related deaths, most recently a desperate young woman who died in a single-car accident, apparently with a needle in her arm. In the last year, we have suffered through 300-plus similar deaths, the common element being that the person struggling with the addiction succumbs to the drug’s stranglehold, their primary relationship in their lives being the relationship they have with their drug.

With addiction comes depression and suicidal thoughts, a hopelessness encumbered through lives interrupted by the ravages of a disease that is hard to understand and easy to pass off as something that is an individual thing, a “just get over it” mentality. Many feel that treatment does not work when people cannot get sober on their first attempt so why throw money at the issue?

We know that there are many causes of addiction and mental illness, and we know that there are many treatments that work. These communities of people who are in recovery are amazing. We just need to hear some of the stories they tell to be inspired at the resilience and bravery of those who struggle. And we need the courage and tenacity of the people that Churchill led to rise above the chatter and address the enemy of addiction and mental illness by providing care and treatment that has begun with the expansion of Medicaid in the Granite State and to recognize that we can no longer tolerate the stigma associated with this disease.

The hour has come when we need to do the right thing as a state and provide the prevention, treatment and environment of recovery for those who are struggling.

(Peter Evers is the CEO of Riverbend Community Mental Health in Concord.)