Attacking the issues of addiction means taking action on root causes

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Downtown Fort William

Downtown Fort WilliamTHUNDER BAY – Solving the issues of alcoholism or drug abuse means taking action on the root causes of the problem(s) which cause it. When you talk to a person who is deep in despair, and attempting to use alcohol or drugs as a solution they already know it doesn’t work.

Earlier we reported on ‘The Three Thunder Bays’.

Sometimes, they realize it once they are fully in its grip, and are grabbed by the depression that follows. Sadly they end up down, depressed, and in a worst place than they were before they started drinking.

It takes listening, understanding, and access to treatment to break the cycle. It also takes the realization that no one really set a life-goal of being an addict.

Some suggest that the solution is locking up addicts. While it might make short term sense to look to lock up people, that is such a short-term solution that is both expensive and ineffective.

Treatment is more affordable than prison in both the short and long-term.

Jailing a person for intoxication and then releasing them without addressing the real problem is only to see the problem happen again and again.

A few short days ago, a young man seeking to break the grip alcohol has on him made the decision to enter treatment. It was a decision that he came to, debated within himself, and found two new friends who supported him in making his decision.

It was not easy.

He debated if that is what he really needed. It was obvious that he was making the right choice. The first night he made the decision, there was no room for him. It took another four days for the man to screw up his courage, and come back to making the decision again.

Solving the problem means being ready to move quickly when the person makes the decision to make a change. Delay means that in many cases that peer pressure might change the person’s desire to want to change.

The battle the man fought, within himself, was powerful.

He had to convince himself that the decision he was making was the right one. Fortunately, that second night, there was a place for him, and he has started treatment.

Often it takes a person hitting rock bottom before they can start trying to ‘dig out’. For each person trying to climb back to their feet and move forward, there will be ‘friends’ who will invest time and effort to keep them down.

It seems to be one of the lost components to treatment. What is needed is to break the cycle, and put the person on a path to a new and hopefully better lifestyle.

The threat from those who want people to ‘stay down’ is strong. It is that ‘peer pressure’ which can slow the path to recovery.

One young lady is working to focus her life and move forward. She now is concerned over being jumped and beaten in the streets. It is a price to pay that takes a great deal of courage to make.

For those seeking to move forward and get past drugs or alcohol, one of the issues is getting the help they need. Thunder Bay has a shortage of beds for detox, and a really shocking shortage of treatment beds.

In many cases, Thunder Bay is shipping people out of our city to Sudbury and North Bay to receive treatment. Then on returning to the city there is little in effective follow-up possible with the case workers who have helped the people move forward during treatment.

It is a roller coaster ride of despair, and each setback leads to a greater mountain to climb in order to get out of the hole that becomes one’s life.

The problem to shipping someone out of the city for treatment is twofold. First it is expensive to transport someone outside the city. Second the workers that the person grows to trust through the process are far away once treatment is over, and the person returns home.

This means what ends up happening once a person returns to Thunder Bay they are left without a trusted safety net where they can get needed help.

In doing this, we are taking an easy road – one that does not work. We are failing in helping.

When a person makes the decision to seek help, often in our city, there is nowhere that any of that help is there for them.

The cost of this failure is expensive.

Almost two years ago, one young man sought to enter a treatment program, the waiting list and paperwork took months. During that time the young man spiraled ever downward. It was like watching a plane auguring into the ground and being helpless to do anything.

In that case, addiction and peer pressure led the young man into committing a robbery, and being convicted of the crime. He served 18 months in jail. Even in the jail, and under the care and custody of the system he still didn’t get the full measure of help that he needed.

The cost in terms of court time, police time and jail time far exceeds the costs of treatment.

Jail should not be simply housing people. That custody should be a time to work to solve the issues that led the person to end up there.

One might think that the province or the federal government would take that responsibility. They do not seem to. The proof is in the rates that people re-offend and return to jail.

What we are doing clearly is not achieving the desired goals.

Another issue comes at the hands of some of the social agencies.

When children are removed from the care of their parents, the broken parent(s), and the problems that led to the decision to remove the children are often never addressed.

All that is being done is a duplication of the residential schools where children were seized from their families. Society is setting us up to cycle ever after over and over.

Are we not learning anything from the past? One might hope we could be smarter than that in our society. We appear either unwilling or unable to learn from the mistakes of the past.

Sometimes it almost seems like some of the agencies who are tasked to care, are overwhelmed to the point where caring is left in the dust-bin. One young woman, struggling with addiction saw her children taken from her, and last spring was told, ‘you should never be allowed to see your children again’. Those words stripped the woman of all hope. She ended up on a two week bender of alcohol and is now pregnant. As well she faces a criminal record for breaches of probation over consuming alcohol.

The concept of helping her to overcome the addictions and working with her to get her family back together were left aside as the ‘system’ took over.

Attempting to address the issues like that with some social agencies, it to witness a wall as tall and as solid as the Berlin Wall once was. It is time to ‘tear down that wall’ and have the full issues addressed and start working toward solutions.

Saturday night in the downtown south core, there were several people picked up and taken away by police. One was a woman who was so intoxicated that she could not even sit up. She lay on the sidewalk on her stomach as officers of the Thunder Bay Police Service attempted to help her.

The question should be answered, where exactly are the social agencies tasked with helping?

Dealing with alcoholism and its after-effects is not an effective use of our police officers.

Sometimes it seems there is a solid ‘9-5 Monday to Friday’ attitude that leaves the people most at risk outside of the help they need. That is simply wrong and it should be addressed.

Part of the solution is breaking the cycle before it gets a chance to start. In Thunder Bay that means addressing and focusing on action and solutions and doing so at a time that people are potentially looking for solutions.

Perhaps while some in our city dream of a wonderful new multiplex and sports arena, what needs to be addressed are the real issues happening daily on our streets.

Those addicted to drugs, alcohol or both are not likely to ever benefit from attending a sports event or a concert. Leaving them to lay in a pool of despair is to leave Thunder Bay’s future in that same pool of despair.

James Murray

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