Improving Policies for Addiction in America, as shown by the University of Pittsburgh and education as key to efforts

Improving Policies for Addiction in America

A Closer Look at Addiction Policy in America

Looking at the entirety of the problems of addiction in the United States can create a feeling of hopelessness, of being overwhelmed at the vastness of the crisis. Yet, despite the massive undertaking of even ‘Making an Impact’ on alcohol and substance abuse, many of the scholars who submitted essays were able to do just that. Though improving policies for addiction in America proves to be a tall order, the writers broaching the topic were fearless in their words and critique of what needs to be done.

Over these essays, they looked at various forms of policy initiatives and community efforts that could curb our collective enthusiasm for drugs and excessive drinking, and allow many in the throes of addiction to see a pathway to recovery.  As the final essay ends with a call to action for social workers in the US, we will continue examining these very ‘Honorable Mentions’ with a look at essays from those in fields particularly touched by addiction.[/vc_column_text]


1. B.B. Junior (Western Governors University, TX)

I don’t believe there can be a conversation around reducing the very real impact addiction has on every afflicted person without also recognizing and having a conversation about mental health, as one belies the other. There are many forms of addiction, drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, even addiction to virtual reality through video games. It is a serious problem that requires a serious solution.

Relentless Efforts at Addiction Awareness

Honestly, I feel the biggest impact can be made by relentlessly and vehemently trying to de-mystify, educate, and build awareness around addiction for all people, in all places, of all creeds. Addiction affects the poor, the rich, the hopeful, and the depressed, equally and without remorse.

It is a disease that can be brought on of our own making through our own choices. It can be found among people, places, and activities with whom we choose to associate or participate. It can be influenced by our society, environment, or any one of the many struggles that life presents us along the way.

Coordinating Outreach for Humanization

Providing outreach, kindness, compassion, and empathy, to those afflicted with addiction instead of stigmatizing them, demonizing them, and in all ways, further reinforcing society’s willingness to turn a blind eye, will be a major advancement for building awareness that will humanize our brothers and sisters, mothers, and fathers, who all could become victims of addiction.

Providing education, REAL education, about how addiction dominates, eviscerates, manipulates, and maintains complete control over a human being’s very existence, is paramount to reducing people struggling with addiction.

Arming Ourselves with Information to Battle Addiction

Our countrymen and women cannot fight against what they do not know. Rooting out addiction at its source through outreach and education, is truly our only hope. Educating our children about the dangers of addiction in any form, early and with steady, unflinching guidance, will in my humble opinion, provide the best defense against yet another generation of souls whose lives are being robbed from them and yet, feel powerless to stop it.

We must arm ourselves with the education necessary to understand that there are resources that can help, people that can help, and places to help shelter those in need. We must recognize and take action to prevent in every way possible, another human being simply marking time in their own life, paralyzed by their own vices.

Recognizing addiction for what it really is, a thief, and a disease, lies our country’s salvation. In this world, in this time, the people to our right and left are all we have. I believe educating even just one of those people, will pave the way for continuing the fight against addiction and severely reducing both the number of people affected, as well as the duration of the affliction. We are all in this together, family, let’s start acting like one.



2. A.T. (University of Pittsburgh)

Addiction is a complex issue that could be better handled in our country by changing our perspective and approach to dealing with it. We should aim to treat addiction more like an illness and reduce criminal sentencing where appropriate to offer more treatment options before charging people already suffering from addiction with crimes.

Addiction needs to be less demonized, and a more understanding approach needs to be taken. Effective treatment options exist and ought to be offered more often. Addicts should have basic methods of fighting addiction or relapse shared with them first, and if all else fails, harm reduction should be considered and implemented to reduce the impact and damage of addictions on addicts and their communities.

Refocusing an Approach to Addiction Centered on Healing

Most importantly, the approach to addiction needs to be refocused on preventing harm and helping addicts. The best way to do this is to focus on treating illness first and dealing out criminal punishment second. Some, such as drug cartel members, should still be given heavy sentences. In general, however, the law needs to be more forgiving of people’s circumstances and situations.

Addiction is indeed considered a mental illness because of the many changes it causes to the brain. These changes make it hard to break away from what is causing the addiction. Mercy and forgiveness are necessary because mistakes will be made in such difficult circumstances. Addicts should be provided with resources to help them break away from their addiction before any criminal penalties are considered. They should have an opportunity to better themselves from such difficult circumstances before being at risk of punishment.

Improving Policies for Addiction

Methods for addicts to fight their addiction are critical for when they are on their own out of rehabilitation. They should be taught to avoid people and especially items that remind them of their addiction. They should be offered therapy not just for their addiction but also for their other secondary issues that make quitting harder. They should be shown how to use healthy coping mechanisms, like exercise, to not just avoid relapse but better their lives too.

Harm Reduction as a Safety Net

If all else fails, harm reduction is a helpful method. Though it does not prevent addiction and stop addicts directly, it has secondary benefits that make it worthwhile to implement. Services, such as needle exchange sites, can reduce addicts’ suffering by preventing illnesses. Naloxone can save the lives of those who have overdosed and give them another chance. Both also help get addicts to trust authority and groups that want to help them more. By getting into more contact with these groups, they have a better chance to get to the services that can help them.

Addiction needs to be treated more like the mental illness that it is. Addicts of all types should be taught methods of fighting their addiction. In addition, providing resources for harm reduction and treatment will go farther than our current methods of intense criminalization in helping addicts find a way out.



3. Z.R. (Pima Community College)

There are several reasonable and realistic interventions that I believe would be effective at reducing the number of people living with addiction in the United States. These interventions include education and destigmatization, systematic changes, funding, and changes in legislation. Increasing education on mental health, specifically, the ways in which undiagnosed mental illness can lead to a substance addiction are key in prevention efforts.

Many individuals who struggle with substance dependency have an underlying mental health condition that has gone undiagnosed and resort to self-medicating through unsafe practices that can result in serious injury, spread of disease, or even death from overdose. Educating the public on mental health and the reasons an undiagnosed mental illness leads to addiction is a way of destigmatizing both mental health and addiction.

Enhancing Mental Health Services for Addiction

In addition to education, making changes to the provision of mental health services would be a significant preventive approach to address addiction. For example, current assessments generally rely on self-reporting which can result in gaps of information; therefore, misdiagnosis of mental illnesses and/or hit-or-miss prescribing. By requiring service providers to do more investigating, diagnoses could lead to more accurate treatment plans and be more effective.

The current mental health field is underfunded and understaffed which has a negative impact on the effectiveness, accuracy, and wait times for intakes, assessments, diagnoses, and treatment. Consequently, people are left without proper mental health care and often resort to the streets to find relief for strong, uncomfortable, and even unsafe emotions and behaviors which are symptoms of many mental health illnesses.

Long Term Treatment for Long Term Addiction Recovery

Another major change that needs to occur to decrease the number of individuals living with addiction are the standard 30, 60, and 90 day programs. Studies continue to reveal that these programs are largely ineffective in addressing more severe substance use disorders and do not lead to long-term or permanent change.

Insurance companies who are only willing to pay for treatment in these increments and based on certain qualifying criteria or conditions are in large the root of the problem. To change this, legislation needs to require insurance companies to pay for treatment longer than the current 30, 60, and 90 day programs.

To conclude, I believe that more education and destigmatization, systematic change, increased funding, and changes in legislation are collectively effective and realistic ways in which the United States can reduce the number of individuals who live with a substance addiction.




4. J.T. (University of Texas at Austin – Graduate student)

Drug addiction does not discriminate; however, the United States and individual state drug policies do. The repercussions of this false narrative and misinformation have resulted in criminalizing the addict community instead of providing mental health treatment, care, and social resources they so desperately need. Additionally, the “War on Drugs” has disproportionately affected persons of color and the black community – causing incarceration rates of these populations to skyrocket over the last forty years.

Tearing Down False Addiction Narratives

Exacerbating the situation, prosecutors have leaned heavily on plea deals not only out of convenience but also as a tactic that frightens defendants who can’t afford legal representation into accepting guilty pleas for a lesser sentence in lieu of going to court in front of a jury. These practices have led to overcrowded prisons, massive probation rates, and opened the door to discriminatory employment policies.

Obstacles the addict community faces – and their potential solutions – can be seen through multiple facets. As a social worker, I have a leadership role to play to help develop policies that mitigate the inequities highlighted throughout this growing epidemic by creating support systems through community coalitions that help those affected by addiction long-term.

Community Recovery Organization to Create Change

I would use Community Organization, and a strength-based approach as the foundation of my work to help drive solutions through community and policy. The establishment of coalitions geared toward education, training, wellness, and helping those with a criminal record get higher-paid jobs would lay the groundwork to build support systems for the addict community.

Additionally, increasing access to affordable housing, social services, community, and family support needs to be addressed when discussing the lack of equal opportunities. The end goal would be a larger, multi-disciplinary, and coordinated social change in comparison to other theories that work on a smaller, individualistic scale.

These coalitions would advocate for social and economic justice by focusing on reforming current policies that inadvertently drive discrimination, oppression, and marginalization of the addict community. For example, the coalitions would work together to advocate for the government to provide subsidies to multidisciplinary treatment centers for those who cannot afford addiction treatment, followed by affordable housing in safe neighborhoods and job opportunities beyond minimum wage positions.

Connecting Leaders with Community Organizations

Using Community Organizations, I would seek out community leaders to participate in training, information sessions, and community events led by social workers to build knowledge about those experiencing and affected by addiction. Leaders I would target would be from the educational, law enforcement, business, political, housing, employment, environmental, transit, and worship sectors in addition to leaders within agencies who work directly with this population.

These education and training platforms would concentrate on empowering these sectors to be “agents of change” who will work together towards sustainable, common goals that are needed within their communities to help the addict population reintegrate as the productive members of society they want to be.

Changing systems and programs that have been in place for fifty years is complex and requires cooperation on many levels. However, with social workers at the policy table, It’s possible.


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