Friday, September 02, 2016

Problem Solving 101

NH has a drug problem. Our drug problem didn’t didn’t get much attention until middle class white kids started dying. Suddenly our politicians are paying attention, and using addicts as a political football. Here are the NH numbers for the last 5 years:

2011 – 201 deaths.
2012 – 163 deaths.
2013 – 192 deaths.
2014 – 326 deaths.
2015 – 433 deaths.

So far this year there have been about 200 overdose deaths. The state epidemiologist’s office predicts there will be about 482 deaths by the end of the year.

All of the gubernatorial candidates that have websites have plans for dealing with the opioid crisis. They’re all pretty much the same. Education, treatment, and law enforcement. Some candidates have a stronger focus on law enforcement. Even the cops will tell you that they can’t arrest their way out of this. While educating  kids is never a bad thing, education is not enough to solve the problem.

The one thing no one ever brings up when they talk about strategies and solutions is the why. Why do we have so many addicts? Why do we have so many people experimenting with heroin? What is the root cause? It seems likely to me that we can’t solve a problem until we begin to try to understand why we have the problem in the first place. What is lacking in the lives of so many people?

I believe it is hope.

I’m going to saunter out into the old fart zone, and reminisce. The phrase “the common good” was in vogue when I was a wee lass. A high school graduate could get a job and have the potential to move up the advancement ladder. (Heck, a high school drop out could, too.) Companies valued their employees and rewarded years of loyalty with things like regular raises and retirement pensions. It was a time when many people had a job with the same company for their entire working life. The American Dream was a reality for most people.

Then along came the 80’s. An actor from California was elected president. We learned that everything that was wrong was because the government was bad. The phrase “the common good” was discarded in favor of phrases like “welfare queen,” “trickle down economics,” and “evil empire.” Greed and selfishness began their takeover of the American mindset. The belief in the common good morphed into a Galtian version of “you’re on your own, Jack.”

A young person in the north country has little chance of finding or creating a good job. The failure of our state to invest in infrastructure works against them. In fact – the failure of our state to invest is part of the problem. We begrudge every dime we spend on education, and we make sure to tout that at every opportunity. NH ranks dead last in spending on post-secondary education. If we tripled the amount tomorrow, we’d still be dead last. Mississippi – the poorest state in the nation spends more on state colleges than NH – and NH is the seventh wealthiest state in the nation. (We aren’t ashamed of this.) The cost of a college education means taking on a lot of debt for students that don’t qualify for scholarships. Once that education is complete – then what? NH is not exactly a mecca for good paying jobs.

We are surprised when our kids leave our state and don’t return; yet we offer them few reasons to stay. Working two or three jobs to try to stay afloat isn’t anyone’s idea of a life plan. It used to be that if you worked that hard, you could at least afford a modest little house and a family, but those days are long gone.

I grew up in a more innocent and idealistic time. JFK was reminding us to ask what we could do for our country. His question was aimed at far more than donning a uniform and going off to fight in one of our endless wars. Kennedy was one of the founders of the Peace Corps. Young people coming of age today haven’t experienced anything but endless war. They’ve grown up in a country where the corporate media monopolies mostly fail to inform us about anything other than celebrity gossip and sports.

The goal-oriented kids will almost always turn out okay. It’s the kids who don’t have a gravitational pull toward a particular area of study or career that are more likely to get lost. 

They see a nation at odds with itself, in a state of perpetual war. They live in a state that fails to invest in them – or anything else. Climate change is damaging the planet – yet politicians with no scientific background deny science. Every message is conflicting. There is no cohesive vision of a shared future – only the promise of more conflict and endless war. It’s only a surprise that the 30-year slide into national nihilism didn’t start killing us sooner. 

As long as the medication of choice for hopelessness was alcohol, we didn’t care. It was bought in our state stores, after all, and kept our economy afloat. In 2000, the Alcohol Fund was created, to take 5% of the profit from our multi-million dollar booze biz, and use the money for treatment, education, and prevention. The fund became active in 2003, the only year that it was fully funded. Since then, every year, the funding mechanism has been suspended, and the monies go right to the general fund. Over the last twenty years, the treatment and mental health systems that were once in place have been systematically dismantled. No one cared much, as long as it was just booze. It is cynical, but it is how we fund our state. Cheap booze and butts, sold on the highways.

Now that middle class kids are dying from heroin overdoses, suddenly everyone cares. Don’t read me wrong, I’m glad people are starting to pay attention. I just wish it hadn’t taken so long. This is NH, where we’d prefer to pay the pound of cure, and we do, at every exhausting opportunity.

NH is now rebuilding treatment infrastructure. Everyone running for office has a plan for “solving” the opioid crisis. The plans provide a good starting point, but the deeper issues must be examined. We cannot prevent what we don’t fully understand.

“Everybody, sooner or later, sits down to a banquet of consequences.” Robert Louis Stevenson

This was published as an op-ed in the September 2 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper. 


June said...

Well said.

And as you pointed out in your excellent series on th gubernatorial candidates, if people keep signing the pledge, it isn't going to change.

June said...

Well said. I completely agree.
And, as you pointed out in your excellent series on the gubernatorial candidates, things aren't likely to change as long as they keep signing the pledge.

tworavens said...

An excellent piece. I feel differently about the reason for high drug use. Our culture has been been a "drug culture" since the early 1960's (earlier I know but for short purposes I'll use this date) and has since been passed from parent to child. Rather than being condemned, it is treated with an attitude of "normal" and "cool" in the press, movies and all other popular culture.

Friends have told me that their parents engaged in pot smoking with them in the 1970's. You are right in that alcohol has been treated completely differently and yet we have the same problem with it that we do with drugs. Some humans for whatever reason will always wish to be "high" either on drugs or drink, and we have to change the way we behave and speak in order to educate. I believe we are all potential addicts, and the desire to be part of a tribe/club/party etc. is no excuse to ruin one's life and that of society and the nation.

We cannot change our lives, our town, our nation when we are high. Our country has lost its value of common sense and decency. And it has filtered down from on high. When we have legislators and worse, Presidents admitting they have partaken of whacky weed and Willy Nelson got high on the roof of the White House, we are down the tubes and no amount of drug czars (abysmal failure) or treatment facilities will help. A turn around is going be virtually impossible in my opinion (even though countries such as Germany are touting success).

Susan Meeker-Lowry said...

I totally agree - loss of hope for the future, the pain of lost dreams and trying over and over only to fail (or fall short) each time no matter how hard you try. Some people can take disappointment and loss, others - for whatever reason - aren't as tough or resilient.

I lost my oldest son to an overdose in 2013. He lived in Vermont where the situation is just as bad as NH, and I live in ME where things are also bad. In the last couple of years or so of his life, my son, who had worked at the same organic dairy farm since high school, lost that job when the farmer decided to call it quits. He then started his own logging business and was doing pretty well until the price fell for logs, then his skidder broke and he couldn't afford to fix it. He continued working, doing firewood, picking up driving jobs here and there (he had his CDL), but he never could make ends meet. His relationship failed, though he lived for his boys and shared custody with their mom. The boys kept him going - until he had to leave the house that he had lived in for many years (change in ownership) and couldn't find a rental he could afford. This is when things got overwhelming and drugs took over his life. Every time he felt things were going to turn around, they didn't. Each time he had to face another loss or setback it got harder and harder and eventually he simply let the drugs take over. He did seek help, checked himself into rehab but was only allowed 5 days due to lack of insurance. He was turned away from a 30 day inhouse treatment (that he had been on the waiting list for for over a month!) due to a "conflict of interest" that was never explained to me. At that point he gave up. He was dead in two months. This was the most painful thing I have ever experienced. I have not recovered, I have simply become "a mother who has lost a child" - it is part of who I am now. And when I allow myself to think too much about my son's last few weeks, I get extremely angry because he asked for help, begged for help, showed up when he was supposed to and because he didn't have money, and because treatment is only available if you're either really lucky or really wealthy, he is now dead. That and it wasn't heroin he died of, though it was heroin he thought he had used. It was fentanyl as the medical examiner's report indicated - but a dose "consistent with heroin", which as we all know, is deadly. So someone essentially murdered my son, and a couple of other people around the same time in that same Vermont community. No one was ever arrested. That's my son's story. Every addict has one. Every addict's family has one. Every story is different but also the same - filled with pain, hopelessness, and fear.

As far as pot goes - growing up in the 60s, pretty much everyone I knew and hung out with smoked it at one time or another. None of us, as far as I know, became an addict.

susanthe said...

Susan - I am so very sorry.


Jilletta Jarvis said...

Well written! I have been saying over and over again that drug use is a side-effect of other issues. It starts somewhere maybe we should be looking into prevention options - and a good economy is a great place to start.