Recently I was asked “why do we treat people for drug and alcohol addictions in cities like San Francisco?”. I must admit I don’t know the answer.
But it’s an import an question. The truth is that we spend millions of dollars a year in the United States on recovery programs that have proven to be failures. Most of the programs in located in our inner cities, where drugs are readily available and stress levels are high. It makes no sense.
For seven years I spent my time advocating for people with serious mental health issues. I also spent time working in programs that assisted the homeless and addicts. Rarely did I see someone achieve any real level of recovery.
Mostly I witnessed people go through a one month program and then be released back onto the streets without any support. They might get a referral to a mental health program and told where they could get free meals, but that was it.
Many of the people I served has come from jail or prison. Some of them where homeless. And some of those were convicted child molesters and rapists (note: the program I worked for secretly refused to help these individuals, and we never told them we would not serve them). Probation was of no assistance and the community did not want them living in any type of permanent housing. At one point Probation tried to do the right thing and rented part of an old motel, located a half mile from any residents. But the community freaked out.
I witnessed people going in and out of rehab; mental illness running rampant; homeless people treated like pariahs. It was unfair then and it’s still unfair today.
This is not the world my parents grew up in. Back in the 1940′s and 50′s there were state run institutions people could go to for rehab and mental health care. They might not have been the best, and some were deadly, but they were something. This changed in 1972 when Republicans lead the charge to close state hospitals and transfer people into communities. BUT the funding was never given to communities ftp treat these people.
There is something else that is different; hard core drugs like Heroin and Crack are new to our society. They were not available back when my parents were growing up. Neither was LSD and a few other illegal substances. Now certainly some where available. Cocaine was once used as medicine and even given to children. Opium was there and of course we was alcohol.
The types of homeless have also changed dramatically over the past 50 years. In the past you would find alcoholics on the streets. And you would find people who just liked being outdoors. And there were those without any form of education. Many of these people also suffered from severe abuse growing up and were kicked out of their families. BUT they did not have the mental health and drug issues we have today.
Now, I will tell you that alcohol abuse is nothing new. Prohibition in the United States was started because of rampant alcohol abuse. Many women became sick and tired of their husband coming home drunk and abusive. The women had had enough and started fighting back. In all of the stories and teaching about Prohibition, the rampant alcoholism is rarely mentioned.
Let’s sit back and think about the opening question. It’s a good one: Why do we treat drug and alcohol addictions in cities like San Francisco? It can’t be because it’s cheaper. And it can’t be because it makes sense.
The biggest problem facing rehab programs is not budget cuts, it out-of-control advocates who are blind to reality. They are so focused on their ideology that they can’t see the damage cities can do to many people’s psyches.
The stress of living in a city can be overwhelming to the most mentally stable people. If you are over anxious and/or an addict your stress level is through the roof. The constant noises and the traffic whizzing by can be mind boggling. Add on to that the stress of finding a place to live and having enough food to eat and it’s no wonder people go crazy.
And yet society has dictated that it is best to serve people in their communities, no matter how much that community is tearing them apart. I’m going to use a very blunt word to describe this: stupidity.
Yes, stupidity. You are stupid if you spend millions of dollars on rehab and refuse to see that it’s not working because of where you are doing it. It’s stupid to think that people can kick their addictions when they are living with drug dealers. And it’s stupid to think people can beat alcoholism when they live in neighborhoods with multiple convince stores at every intersection.
Stupidity is the right word to use. It might not be politically correct, but it is the correct none the less. There are a lot of people out there acting stupid and hurting a lot of other people in the process.
What can be done about treating people’s addictions? It’s pretty simple.
When I worked in mental health advocacy I helped develop a plan to convert part of a Native American reservation to a “camp” like environment. It was the tribe’s idea and one many people fully supported. We knew there was no sense in treating people in communities where their stress levels were high. Treating them on a farm made sense to us. Creating a peaceful and quite community where everyone contributed to it’s success was more important to us than listening to people who only cared about furthering their ideologies.
Think about what it’s like to go camping or living on a farm. Planting a garden or taking care of animals is very soothing. It’s hard work but you have something to show for it. You feel connected to nature.
It makes sense to treat people in a place that is far away from the stresses of everyday life. But there is another problem in all of this. Where do people go when they are through with the problem?
The current solution is to put them back into the communities where they were living before going into treatment. They are released back into environments where drugs and alcohol are all around them. How is this fair to them? And how is this helping keep them sober?
Of course it’s not fair. And few stay sober for very long. It’s a major flaw in our system. Some say it’s the people own free will to go back home. But is it really their choice where no other option is given?
The obvious answer is for some of them to stay on farms and work the land. They can continue to get mental health treatment and participate in ongoing rehab services. And if they don’t want to farm then maybe they make furniture, or clothing, or any number of things. Just as long as they are doing work that keeps them busy and makes them happy.
Some will want to go back to their known environments. They will relapse and probably end up in jail or prison. At some point when is enough enough? That’s not my place to say.
What I do know is that our current system is broken and is hurting, rather than helping, the people it’s supposed to be serving. There might not be one single answer. But the current programs are not working and major changes need to be made.
What is it going to take to change things? I have no idea. Sadly I don’t think anything is going to change as long as the government listen to ideologies who care more about their own issues than helping those with real problems.